Since 2011, large numbers of immigrants have had to pass English language tests to renew their visas in the UK. The Home Office says that between 2011 and 2014, tens of thousands of immigrants — particularly students but also business people outside the EU — unlawfully paid proxies to take the Toeic (Test of English for International Communication) test for them. More than 30,000 foreign students, including Bangladeshis, accused of cheating on their English language tests, had their visas revoked between 2014 and 2016. They were targeted after an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama 2014 exposed systematic cheating at some colleges where candidates sat the Toeic. The Home Office asked the US company providing the test, Educational Testing Services (ETS), to re-examine all 58,458 tests that had been taken in the UK between 2011 and 2014. They relied on the evidence from the ETS when it accused almost 34,000 students of cheating in English language tests in 2015. The evidence provided by ETS to the Home Office is questionable, and it contains ‘fundamental flaws and frailties’ that according to court should make it impossible to take decisions based on this evidence alone. The Home Office has disregarded huge numbers of anomalies and the lack of proof that links each recording to the person who sat the test. In fact, they rushed to penalise students without establishing whether ETS was involved in fraud or if it had reliable evidence of people cheating. As with the Windrush scandal, the Home Office has not done enough to identify the innocent and vulnerable people who have been affected. Some were detained in removal centres, lost their jobs and were left homeless as a result, even though they were in the country legally.
Image Source: Unsplash
Hostile environment and Toeic ‘Fiasco’: The Home Office’s flawed reaction to a systemic failure by a private company has had a detrimental impact on the lives of over 50,000 overseas students the Home Office accused of cheating. Thousands of Bangladeshi students have been removed from the UK as a result of the accusation and hundreds have spent long stretches in detention, large numbers of whom say they were wrongly accused with more than 300 cases pending in the court of appeal as hundreds attempt to clear their names. Others continued and worked anxiously to clear their names, knowing that going home with such a disgrace hanging over them would have destroyed their reputations and barred them from jobs – and in some cases, derailed their familial relationships.
Detention, dignity and justice awaited: Some students were indicted of cheating at the test in a city or place they have never visited, or of taking the test on a date on which they did not take it. There are also students accused of deception who have never taken the test. The Bangladeshi students (and many others) were served with a section 10 Removal Notice (Home Office instruction to leave the UK immediately) and were told that they had no right to appeal or that they could appeal only if they left the UK. They were also forced to spend large amounts of money on legal procedures to defend themselves from the false allegation or to manage all the legal procedures by themselves if they could not afford to pay a lawyer. Despite all the money spent and the difficulties encountered in trying to prove their innocence, Most of the students and other victims are still waiting for justice and fairness. In some court cases, the Home Office has also failed to give any evidence of its allegations.
Psycho-social impact: Many of those fighting immigration appeals are stripped not only of the right to study but also to work, to rent accommodation, to drive, have a bank account or use the National Health Service (NHS). The approach has also blocked the most direct avenues for students to challenge Home Office rulings. Legal aid has been withdrawn from nearly all immigration cases. Stress impacts on health in a variety of ways and a number of the students have started suffering from heart troubles, hyperthyroidism, and other diseases. Some even have suicidal thoughts. A deep issue today for immigrants is that they experience epistemic injustice as well as bear a deep imprint of British domination and hegemony.
A National Audit Office investigation into the Home Office response to reports of cheating in English language tests concluded in 2019 that some people may have been wrongly accused and unfairly removed from the UK. To date, the Home Office has not taken any further steps to support individuals who are affected by its actions. Students who have won their cases are however still being denied access to UK education institutions, with their immigration records seen as a threat to the institution’s licence. The ‘knock-on effect’ has derailed careers and long-term aspirations. It has pushed people out of work and into poverty and debt.
The Home Office is aware of the fact that they have acted against innocent people however it has not established a clear mechanism for them to raise concerns outside of the appeals process. This is due to ‘both punitive public policy and divisive public debate’ in the UK and, as a result, immigrants have once again become the scapegoats.