Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, confirmed yesterday that the government will investigate the deportation or departure of more than 50,000 international students as a result of the Home Office’s own investigation into ETS TOEIC exams that began in 2014.
Vaz made the announcement after interviewing Oliver Robbins, second permanent secretary at the Home Office. Vaz charged that the Home Office did not independently investigate evidence provided by ETS – which an upper tribunal court has deemed insufficient.
He also questioned the Home Office’s claim to have allowed 20,000 students to re-take their tests.
The upper tribunal case last month called into question the assessments by Home Office representatives of ETS evidence. “The evidence was only validated by two employees, you’ll have not examined these cases. You sent a delegation to [ETS headquarters in] New Jersey, as the judge said, that have no experience in voice recognition,” Vaz said.
“We’re talking here about innocent people whose whole reputation has been destroyed because the Home Office keeps saying that they took their test illegally”
“We’re talking here about innocent people whose whole reputation has been destroyed because the Home Office keeps saying that they took their test illegally and fraudulently and with deception…and the only reason why you’re invalidating and questioning these tests is because ETS has said so.”
He also disputed Robbins’s claims that the Home Office extended opportunities to retake the exam to more than 20,000 students whose results were deemed questionable.
“The Committee will open a formal inquiry into this and we will expect to have better answers than the answers you provided today,” said Vaz. “Bearing in mind that this has been going on for two years, and the fact that 55,000 people have been affected by it.”
MP and committee member Stuart McDonald pressed Robbins during the interview to explain the appellate processes available to students, many of whom have been forced to pursue their cases after deportation.
“The vast majority of people who have been affected by this investigation will have to appeal from hundreds if not thousands of miles away. How can you possibly challenge a spreadsheet from ETS if ETS doesn’t give you access to the recordings and the Home Office doesn’t let you turn up to court?” he put to Robbins.
Robbins only commented on the two appeals that were honoured by the upper tribunal last month brought forth by students still in the UK.
“They did manage to prove that they didn’t deceive, we dispute that but it shows it is possible,” he said.
“The vast majority of people who have been affected by this investigation will have to appeal from hundreds if not thousands of miles away”
Robbins confirmed the Home Office will appeal the upper tribunal’s decision and welcomed the Committee’s inquiry.
“We do think that the ETS case shows widespread and deep and very troublesome deception of the immigration rules,” he said. “The Home Office is convinced that its response has been both immediate and proportionate of the risks that it has highlighted.”
The decision to launch the inquiry comes after the National Union of Students provided official evidence to the government urging it to carry out an investigation into the mistreatment of international students.
Any inquiry, it said, should consider the appropriateness of “remove first, appeal later” in the system and determine why a case of such magnitude was dealt with by two civil servants without relevant expertise.
The NUS has also called for immediate suspension of all Home Office actions based upon ETS findings and a commitment by the agency to review every case where ETS findings have led to action being taken against individuals.
“The Home Office’s handling of the whole saga has been a complete omni- shambles,” said Mostafa Rajaai, international students’ officer at the NUS.