A group of ten cross-party MPs, led by former NUS president Wes Streeting (Labour), made points to the immigration minister Caroline Nokes (Conservative).
“Thousands have been robbed by the actions of the British government”
Following a “deeply disappointing” response by the minister, the MPs will seek the Home Secretary’s involvement, Stephen Timms (Labour), one of the MPs with constituents involved in the case, told The PIE News.
Pressure group Migrant Voice, which has been supporting the students and has launched a report into the case in July, is also planning to step up the campaign.
Founder and executive director Nazek Ramadan told The PIE the group is seeking the support of more MPs, and to involve High Commissioners and universities, with the aim of closing the case soon.
She said that High Commissioners have responded to the campaign, and the group is planning to seek support from the Pakistani government.
During the parliamentary debate, Streeting, citing figures obtained by the House of Commons Library, said that by the end of September 2016 more than 35,870 visa holders had had their visa refused or curtailed on the basis of the TOEIC scandal, and more than 4,600 had been removed from the country.
He called the case “Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal,” referencing the recent Windrush scandal, and said the Home Office had placed students outside the normal immigration processes by denying them the right to appeal. He insisted that an apology and full compensation be given to students, and said an independent inquiry into the case is necessary.
“There should be acknowledgement that ETS can make mistakes”
All MPs presented evidence of the impact of the scandal on the lives of the students involved, bringing case studies from their constituents who have had their visa revoked or have been deported on the basis of what Streeting called “flimsy evidence.”
The damage to the UK’s global reputation was also highlighted by the MPs present including; Mike Gapes, Seema Malhotra, Gareth Thomas, Jim Fitzpatrick, Lyn Brown, Naz Shah, Ruth Cadbury, Afzal Khan (all Labour), and Martyn Day (SNP).
“International student numbers are now growing far faster in the US, Canada and Australia than here. It is easy to see why,” said Brown.
Mentioning UUK’s push for improved PSW rights for students, which he said he “wholly” endorses, Streeting said the government’s actions in this case don’t leave room for hope.
“How can we possibly expect the government to take up such sensible recommendations when they treat students who are already here in such a disgraceful way?” he asked.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes called the government’s reaction “measured and proportionate” and said that the students were removed, but not deported from the country, arguing there is “a very clear difference.” The PIE asked the Home Office for further clarification on this difference, but did not receive an explanation by the time of publication.
“The Home Office has established that we can rely on the evidence”
She added that the government hadn’t offered compensation as successive High Court judgements had shown that the government’s ability to rely on an accusation of fraud was appropriate.
“The Home Office has established that we can rely on the evidence of fraud that we very clearly have, and the links to criminal gangs,” she said.
Stephen Timms told The PIE that Nokes’s response showed the government hasn’t “grasped the full scale of the problem.”
“The minister’s reply to the debate suggests that the Home Office still hasn’t grasped the scale of the problem, or recognised the hardship they have caused to so many students. Thousands have done nothing wrong, but been robbed of their futures by the actions of the British government,” he said.
Both lawyers representing the students, Patrick Lewis QC and Sonali Naik QC of Garden Chambers, expressed their disappointment at the minister’s response.
“I just don’t understand the minister’s response… there should be acknowledgement that ETS can make mistakes and [the government] can’t simply rely on the accusations that they make,” Lewis told The PIE.
Naik also criticised the minister’s use of the word ‘proportionate’ and said that the push for out-of-country appeals won’t remedy the situation.
“It’s not proportionate to treat everybody in the same way when you know your evidence may well be flawed,” she said.
After reiterating that Migrant Voice will “escalate” the campaign, Ramadan expressed her disappointment at the lack of engagement and emotional response of the minister, who “did not answer the questions and stuck to her pre-prepared briefing.”
“I am now very concerned – if she is in charge, we are in trouble,” she said.
Readers can view a full recording of the debate via Parliament.tv here.