Migrant Voice said the students “are demanding their futures back” and the campaign aims to right the wrongs committed by the Home Office, whose actions after limited test fraud was exposed in 2014 led to many students being deported and even more being stopped from progressing in their education.
Its decision to curtail and revoke thousands of student visas was based on “evidence” that a tribunal later ruled was insubstantial.
Blaming the situation on the so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy, Migrant Voice called for all the students accused of cheating in 2014 to be allowed to sit English exams again, and resume the courses they were stopped from completing.
“I couldn’t understand how in a democratic country this could happen. Hearing about the Windrush generation [scandal], I could understand more,” said report contributor Anna Marsden.
“This campaign is proposing a simple, fair solution; let them take the English-language test”
Kamruddha Rajib, from Bangladesh, shared his experience with The PIE News at the campaign launch.
“I came in 2011 [and] I was studying in university… in the middle of my education the university has suspended me from my course and the Home Office cancelled my visa because they said I had cheated. But I had taken an IELTS test as well, and I submitted that when I applied,” he said.
“I have been through mental health [counselling]. We just want them to listen to us in court, we didn’t do any deception.”
Another student caught in the scandal was Shazidur Rahman, also from Bangladesh. He was hopeful on the possible outcomes of the campaign, while simultaneously critical of the legal case so far.
“I couldn’t understand how in a democratic country this could happen”
“They didn’t give any proof that we cheated on the English test. We can speak English and we can prove that, so I think the campaign will be successful,” he said.
One of the lead QC’s representing the victims group, Patrick Lewis, also told those assembled at parliament the government immigration policy had played a part in this scandal.
“This whole hostile environment is clearly reflected in the way this scandal has been handled,” Lewis said.
This new campaign focuses on allowing the accused a chance to “prove the quality of their English” and “resume… their lives at the point at which they were brutally and arbitrarily cut off”.
“We just want them to listen to us in court, we didn’t do any deception”
Director of Migrant Voice, Nazek Ramadan, said the goal is “simple”.
“This campaign is proposing a simple, fair solution; let them take the English-language test,” he said in a statement before the event in London, because “they can do nothing until they have cleared their names”.
Between June 2014 and the end of 2015, more than 35,000 ETS-administered TOEIC test results were deemed invalid by the Home Office, leading to 28,297 ‘refusal, curtailment or removal’ orders placed against students accused of cheating. 87 colleges also had licences revoked.
In the report detailing the impact of the scandal on the students involved, Migrant Voice also makes recommendations to avoid a similar situation in the future.
It calls for universities to be given the power to decide which English test they use for admissions, and suggested a pre-arrival interview system should be developed to ascertain students’ English level. Among its other recommendations was the removal of students from the net migration target.
Until January 2018, the accused were not even allowed to challenge the ruling of cheating (which in many cases led to deportation) from within in the UK, and instead were made to rely on out-of-country appeals.
Lord Justice Underhill then ruled this action “would not satisfy the Appellants’ rights… to a fair and effective procedure to challenge the decisions to remove them”.
But Migrant Voice said certain lawyers have gone further, accusing the Home Office of presenting “highly questionable” evidence in court, and presenting behaviour “so unfair and unreasonable as to amount to an abuse of power”.
After years of the story bubbling under the surface of the collective industry conscience, with a notable exception being continued coverage by this publication, the TOEIC scandal appears to have captured lawmakers opinions.
At the Westminster event, Baroness Udin who sits on the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students, said the scandal and Migrant Voice campaign would be a part of the APPG’s upcoming public inquiry.
“Our group are undertaking an inquiry. We’ll make sure that your voices are incorporated in our upcoming work,” she said.
“I am really with you and we’ll do anything we can,” Baroness Udin added.
Although this is unlikely to be a fast process, Stephen Timms MP said he would call for questions to the government and a debate in parliament, and another lead lawyer representing the students, Sonali Naik QC said she is “confident” the affected leaners will “recover their costs”.
Additional reporting by Claudia Civinini.