British MPs have called for an independent inquiry into the “outrageous” treatment of students, mostly from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who were “unlawfully” deported or left in a limbo after they were accused of cheating on an English language test needed to study in the U.K.
Labour MP Wes Streeting led the Westminster Hall debate on what he described as “Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal”, which had led to thousands getting wrongly deported and tens of thousands being left in a limbo, or having their visas cancelled. “Their lives have been plunged into chaos by a government [which has] effectively branded them all cheats, defied the principles of natural justice and created a hostile environment for international students,” Mr. Streeting said during the debate.
Call for apology
MPs also called for an apology and potential compensation from the government, with some likening the situation to the Windrush scandal.
Government figures published in 2016 revealed that over 35,870 visa holders had visas refused or curtailed because of TOEIC tests, while 4,600 had been deported.
The British government has, for a number of years now, been taking foreign students, workers and others to court on the charge of committing fraud to obtain English-language qualifications to stay in the U.K.
Since 2010, a number of institutions, including the Educational Testing Services (ETS), an American company with many Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) test centres, have been responsible for running tests that were recognised by the U.K. government.
In February 2014, a BBC Panorama investigation found evidence of fraud at one ETS centre, which acted as a trigger for the British government’s deportation programme.
Accused of fraud
In the years that followed, thousands of people, who had gained their qualification via ETS at different test centres, were accused of partaking in fraud. Thousands were deported while some others left the country distraught.
“People have been separated from their families, detained and deported, their assets are stripped away and their sources of income removed. Some become homeless,” said Labour MP Lyn Brown.
Others drew parallels with the controversy over professionals being refused leave to remain in Britain using anti-terror legislation because of changes they had made to their tax records.
“Innocent applicants may well have been caught up in widespread fraud,” acknowledged Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes, who nevertheless insisted the government had acted proportionately, both in initial actions and responding to judgments from the Court of Appeal. “We are right to continue acting on these cases.”
Their lives have been plunged into chaos by the government, which has effectively branded them all cheats
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