When Wahidur Rahman first came to the UK in September 2009 as an international student from Bangladesh, to pursue his under-graduation in Business Administration, he hadn't fathomed that a 'criminal allegation' would be attached to his name for studying in this country.
Rahman had fulfilled the basic criteria, madatory for international students from non-English speaking countries, of successfully passing an approved language test, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). A few years later, he also qualified the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) with a similarly high mark. Yet, in 2014 he received a letter from the Home Office where they accused him of using a “proxy” to take the exam for the speaking section of the test.
“I approached a solicitor to represent me and asked the Home Office if they had any evidence against me when they alleged that I had used someone else to appear for my speaking examination and they said that they did have proof,” he recalls.
The 2014 accusation against Rahman rested on a single audio clip that Educational Testing Service (ETS), who organises the test, had provided. According to the ETS, the clip showed that someone other than Rahman appeared for the spoken element of the exam.
“When I asked to see the proof, the Home Office directed me to the ETS and although it was difficult for me to get in touch with them, I somehow managed to contact them. However, the ETS then asked me to go back to the Home Office,” he sighs.
From pillar to post: Home Office to ETS
This back and forth between the ETS and the Home Office has wasted nearly half a decade of Rahman's life. According to him, it has also costed him a total financial loss of £25,000, in tuition fees and other legal expenses incurred to fight the Home Office’s efforts to send him home. Rahman, says, that although he had been able to complete a parallel degree in an external course of Marketing and Innovations from the Anglia Ruskin University, he was however, unable to finish his course at Regal College London from where he had been thrown off, on Home Offices' directions.
“I am very lucky to have extended family here with whom I have been staying for the last five years. But it is very humiliating to remain completely dependant on them, both financially and mentally because aside from everything else, the Home Office have also taken away my right to work,” he said.
Rahman had first arrived here when he was 24-years-old and today he is, 29, jobless and fighting a criminal allegation due to which he cannot go back to his country either.
“I would have gone back to Bangladesh but with these allegations I won't be able to secure a job in my home country and applications in other international countries will always be rejected as well,” he explains.
“I want my future”
As a result of Mrs May's 'hostile environment' policy, Rahman, and many others, fighting immigration appeals are stripped not only of their right to study but also to work, to rent accommodation, and to drive. Additionally, legal aid has been withdrawn from nearly all immigration cases. Today, Rahman only asks for his future to be given back to him and although, he agrees that some of these students may have cheated in these exams, he fervently argues of his innocence.
“If you still doubt my credentials then I am ready to sit for another examination. It is very easy to segregate genuine students from those who had cheated by asking all of us to once again appear for the exam,” he concludes.
But Wahidur Rahman is not the only struggling to prove his innocence. Geeta Rani is another one of these students from North India who had arrived to the UK in 2011 for her diploma degree in business administration at London Academy College and later, in 2013, applied to study financial management in a college in Birmingham. She would have finished her degree in 2016 however, halfway through the course, Home Office had revoked her visa on similar grounds of cheating in the TOEIC test. Today, she is challenged with difficulties similar to those of Wahidur if not worse.
“I have spent more than £40,000 on my tuition and legal fees and now I am completely surviving on family support over here. It’s embarrassing as a highly qualified person to be living on charity.
“It is very difficult to explain the situation to my family back in India, who do not know the full scale of the problem. But, I don’t want to give up. I’m innocent and I want to clear my name.”
And amidst such difficult times Rahman and Geeta were able to get in touch with Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voices through a group called 'TOEIC Victims'.
Migrant Voice: The voice of international students
Migrant Voice is a charity running for almost a decade now which has been at the forefront of this campaign of achieving justice for these international students who have been wrongfully accused of cheating in the TOEIC tests based on BBC's Panorama investigation.
“When I first read some of these e-mails, they appeared so unreal and exaggerated but over time as I personally interacted with some of these students, and after speaking to solicitors and conducting our own research, I realised that some of them are being wrongfully accused of cheating,” said the director of Migrant Voice, Nazek Ramadan.
Ramadan who was shocked of the scale of these allegations has been fighting for “justice” since September 2017 after understanding that these students were not presented with any form of evidence. Today, Nazek estimates that the actual number of these students goes beyond 35,000 as reported by the conventional media and covers approximately 55,000 students, the information for many of these victims not provided by the Home Office.
Now an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) campaign is calling for these students to be allowed to retake their tests and prove their innocence. The APPG on TOEIC is chaired by Stephen Timms and other members include- Jim Fitzpatrick, Ruth Cadbury, Martyn Day, Mike Gapes and Paul Scully. They're currently planning to have frequent meetings where they will hear testimonies from different groups including students themselves and legal professionals. The plan is to produce a report with recommendations for the government.