Britain’s influential Home Affairs Select Committee said on Monday it had opened a “full inquiry” into the deportation of thousands of people – mostly Indians – on the basis of alleged fraud in a mandatory English language test.
The panel said the inquiry was launched after deciding to “seriously question” the Home Office’s judgement in the matter.
In a damning ruling in March, the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) allowed an appeal by two students accused of cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) conducted by a subsidiary of US-based company ETS.
The committee said in a new report it had undertaken a full inquiry, including on the issues of procurement and licensing, investigations, inspections and how much money was spent.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said: “We are deeply concerned with the arrests, dawn raids and aggressive deportations of students from outside the EU which have occurred following allegations of fraud at English language testing centres.
“The Home Office appears not to have investigated English language testing fraud allegations themselves before undertaking heavy-handed action. Recent legal cases, with their damming criticisms from senior judges, have opened the door to a mass of expensive and damaging litigation.”
Vaz added, “An estimated 70% of those affected are of Indian nationality, and this debacle comes at a time when Indian student numbers in the UK are declining. The UK risks causing extensive damage to its reputation as a leading destination for international study.”
As a starting point, the committee said the Home Office must set out the process for out-of-country appeals (many people were given no right of appeal before they were deported), the steps to be taken to ensure a fair hearing, and whether this will include appellants being given access to evidence against them.
The row began in February 2014, when a sting operation by BBC’s 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, conducted after the programme, had revealed 46,000 invalid and questionable tests conducted by ETS, and suspended the company.
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 at various centres. The actions affected genuine students who had not cheated.