Dozens of foreign students in Ilford South have been denied visas after being wrongly accused of cheating in English exams, according to Independent MP Mike Gapes. The National Audit Office (NAO) announced last week that it is investigating the Home Office's decision to curtail or cancel the visas of around 34,000 international students accused of cheating in English language tests.
Ilford South MP Mike Gapes told the Recorder he has been contacted by several students stuck in “limbo” over the past 18 months.
“There were some people abusing the immigration system but lots of genuine people have been caught up in the middle of this. They came to this country to study – they are genuine students but they have been caught out. Their whole status in this country has been curtailed on the basis of guilty until proven innocent. It's outrageous,” he said.
Clandestine filming broadcast in a 2014 BBC Panorama documentary showed clear evidence of fraud in at least two testing centres while students took the test of English for international communication (Toeic) as part of their visa-renewal process. In response, the Home Office cancelled visas of tens of thousands of students that had taken it.
Thousands of students have remained in the UK to fight the allegations of cheating and clear their names – but many have struggled as they have been told they have no right of appeal and must leave the country.
Nazek Ramadan, director of charity Migrant Voice, said: “Stripped of the right to work, study or even access healthcare, many of the students are destitute and suffering from severe mental health problems. The criminal allegation against them means that they cannot continue their studies, get a good job or obtain a visa to travel anywhere in the world. They have lost their futures.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The 2014 investigation into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud. The scale of the abuse is shown by the fact that 25 people who facilitated this fraud have received criminal convictions.”