A British court has ruled as unlawful the basis of the deportation of nearly 48,000 non-EU students – most of them Indians – in the past two years for allegedly fraudulently passing a mandatory English language test needed for visa purposes.
In a damning ruling this week, the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) allowed an appeal by two students who were accused of cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) conducted by the US-based company ETS.
It all began in February 2014, when a sting operation by the BBC Panorama programme uncovered cheating, including the use of proxies to impersonate candidates in speaking and listening tests, and invigilators at a London centre providing correct answers.
The Home Office reacted by claiming its own investigation after the BBC programme had revealed 46,000 invalid and questionable tests conducted by ETS.
Extrapolating fraud uncovered in one London centre by the programme, the Home Office revoked the sponsorship licence of 60 institutions and detained or removed thousands of non-EU students and migrants who had obtained the TOEIC certificate.
The tribunal ruled on March 23 that the Home Office had relied on “hearsay” in the case.
“Apart from the limited hearsay evidence there was no evidence from the protagonist in this saga, the ETS organisation…The secretary of state has not discharged the legal burden of establishing that either appellant procured his certificate by dishonesty,” it said.
Senior Labour MP Keith Vaz called it a “devastating verdict” on the Home Office’s judgement: “It is clear that there are many people who speak impeccable English, and who have broken no laws, who have been denied the right to live in the UK.”
Harsev Bains of the Indian Workers Association told Hindustan Times: “Seventy percent of the 48,000 affected were Indians. Due to their personal and national humiliation, many left of their own accord, the majority were deported.”
He added: “Of those remaining, they have been living in fear, suffering from anxiety and depression. Many are afraid to come forward. The biggest disappointment was that this was not briefed or highlighted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his (November) visit.
“I certainly hope that the students will be adequately compensated. However, I would not be surprised if they choose not to come back to UK after the way they were disgracefully treated.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government continues to tackle abuse of our immigration system and protect the reputation of our world class education institutions. The investigation into the abuse of English language testing in 2014 revealed extremely serious, large scale, organised fraud.
“We are very disappointed by the decision and are awaiting a copy of the full determination to consider next steps including an appeal. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”