Author: Amelia Gentleman
The Home Office is facing over 300 court of appeal legal challenges from foreign students who believe they were wrongly accused of cheating in English tests, and dozens more cases are pending in immigration tribunals.
The Guardian has learned that a special team overseen by the Home Office was established in January 2017 to deal with the growing backlog of legal actions related to a Home Office decision in 2014 to revoke or curtail the visas of around 34,000 students whom they accused of cheating in a government-approved English language test.
The decision was made while Theresa May was home secretary as her department introduced policies designed to create a hostile environment for immigrants deemed to be in the country illegally. More than 1,000 students have been removed from the UK as a result and MPs have described this as Britain’s “forgotten immigration scandal”, which they say has the capacity to be “bigger than Windrush”.
Although there was evidence in a BBC Panorama documentary that some students did cheat, there is growing concern over the government’s subsequent ruling that the majority of people who sat the test of English for international communication (Toeic) between 2011 and 2014 had cheated.
Most students accused of fraudulently obtaining the language proficiency certificate required for a visa extension were unable to appeal, because of a parallel move by the Home Office to remove appeal rights and legal aid for most immigration cases. But many of those who have been able to pay for legal advice to challenge the allegation of cheating have found the evidence provided by the Home Office to be very insubstantial.
Bibi Rahima is one the students with an upcoming court of appeal hearing, listed for May. She said the Home Office’s actions had “shattered her dreams” and left her in “a state of despair”. Since being accused in 2016 of cheating in the Toeic test she took four years earlier, she has been unable to study or to work, and does not want to return to Bangladesh with her reputation tarnished by an allegation of fraud from the UK government.
The process of attempting to challenge the accusation has made her severely depressed; she was admitted to hospital last June, feeling suicidal. She and her husband have spent over £12,000 – all their life savings – on legal costs attempting to clear her name.