Indian students urge UK PM Rishi Sunak to act over English test scandal

As a result of the investigation by ETS, the UK Home Office suddenly terminated the visas of over 34,000 overseas students, making their presence in the UK illegal overnight
Pic: @RishiSunak
Pic: @RishiSunak

A group of international students, including many from India, have delivered a petition to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to act against the unjust revocation of their visas following an English test scandal. The issue dates back to 2014 when a BBC Panorama investigation showed some cheating had occurred at two of the UK's testing centres for a compulsory language test required for visas, as stated in a report by PTI.

The UK government responded with a widespread crackdown on such centres, which had the fallout of the revocation of tens of thousands of students' visas linked with those centres. The Migrant Voice voluntary group has been supporting the students impacted and coordinated the latest petition delivered at 10 Downing Street on Monday.

"This is one of the biggest scandals in contemporary British history. The initial government reaction was unjust and has been allowed to drag on for years," said Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice. "It could have been resolved by a simple solution, such as allowing the tests to be retaken. The students came here to get a world-class education and the best student experience in the world, but instead, their lives have been wrecked. It is time for the government to step in and end this nightmare. All it takes to bring this to an end is leadership," she said.

With no right to stay, work or in a few cases appeal, most of the accused students returned home. Those who stayed to clear their names have struggled with homelessness, huge legal fees, stress-induced illnesses and have missed family weddings, births and deaths, the petition appeals.

Parliamentary and watchdog reports over the years have highlighted some flaws in the Home Office evidence used in the case in the past. Although some students won their legal challenges, scores of other students many of them Indian are still in limbo.

Migrant Voice is now underlining the importance of Sunak addressing the injustice at a time when numbers of students and migrant workers form part of UK-India trade negotiations. The group has been running the #MyFutureBack campaign for the affected students for over nine years now and urging the UK government to allow these students the chance to clear their names of alleged cheating.

Sarbjeet is a 46-year-old Indian student who has been separated from her children for 13 years, as she feels she cannot return home to India with the allegations hanging over her. Sanjoy, another Indian student impacted, is being sued by the company that sponsored him and has also been denied the ability to go to the US because his visa withdrawal prevents him from resuming his studies in another country.

The BBC programme revealed cheating on a compulsory language test, known as the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), at two London test centres by some international students. The UK government reacted by placing Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that ran 96 TOEIC test centres, under criminal investigation, while also asking the company to investigate the allegation.

As a result of the investigation by ETS, the UK Home Office suddenly terminated the visas of over 34,000 overseas students, making their presence in the UK illegal overnight. A further 22,000 were told that their test results were questionable. More than 2,400 students have been deported and thousands left voluntarily. The remaining, estimated in hundreds, have been campaigning to clear their name over the years, as stated in a report by PTI.

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