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NAO investigating TOEIC cheating allegations that saw thousands of international students removed by the Home Office


TOEIC decisions come under renewed scrutiny after the Windrush scandal

Date of Publication:
29 April 2019

NAO investigating TOEIC cheating allegations that saw thousands of international students removed by the Home Office

29 April 2019

The National Audit Office (NAO) announced last week that it is investigating the Home Office's removal of international students following allegations of cheating in TOEIC English-language tests.

TOEIC hit the headlines in 2014 when the BBC TV programme Panorama reported that some of the colleges which administered the tests had used cheating and fraud. According to BBC News, some 36,000 students have since had their visas cancelled after being accused of cheating.

The NAO said it is looking at the information held by the Home Office on the number of people alleged to have cheated and the action the Home Office has taken to date. The decisions have come under renewed public and parliamentary scrutiny in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

A spokesperson for the Home Office told BBC News: "We have been supporting the National Audit Office in its work on this investigation since the start of the year. We will consider the findings of the report once it is published."

Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, told the Guardian that the NAO's investigation was an important step on the road to justice. She said many students have been falsely accused and have spent the last five years trying to clear their names in the courts.

"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," Ramadan added.

Both the BBC and the Guardian last week reported on the devastating impact that the accusations of cheating and subsequent cancellation of their visas have had on some international students.

One student told the BBC: "All my rights have been taken away. No jobs, no NHS, I'm not allowed to rent, I'm not allowed to travel, my driving licence has been taken away, I cannot study further. It's just like an open prison."

Another student who first came to study in UK in 2010 told the Guardian that eight years had been pretty much destroyed: "In my head I felt my future's finished. My fiancee has left me because of this, because she sees no future with me. My parents have lost trust in me because I've tried to explain to them what I'm going through but they think I'm lying to them. There was one point that I actually wanted to kill myself. I had given up."

On Friday, the Guardian reported that the Home Office is facing hundreds of legal challenges in the Court of Appeal by students who say they were wrongly accused of cheating.

According to the Guardian, the Home Office set up a special team in January 2107 to deal with the growing backlog of legal actions.

The Court of Appeal ruled in the December 2017 judgment of Ahsan v The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] EWCA Civ 2009 that students challenging TOEIC decisions were entitled to an in-country appeal in the UK.

Garden Court Chambers' Patrick Lewis told the Guardian that he had only lost one TOEIC appeal out of the 15 or so that he had fought.

Garden Court Chambers' Sonali Naik QC was quoted by the Guardian as saying "The biggest tragedy is that this was all entirely avoidable; the whole reason that this has arisen is that the Home Office took away the right of appeal leaving ordinary students with no remedy. The impact on the individual is very acute. Many have been waiting for five years and in that period they can't study or work, they can't clear their names, their reputations are damaged, they can't progress with their lives."

Wes Streeting MP said in the House of Commons last year that TOEIC was "Britain's forgotten immigration scandal, which has seen thousands of international students wrongly deported and tens of thousands more left in limbo."