International students demand justice over English language test allegations

A group of international students have delivered a letter to the Prime Minister demanding “their futures back”, after many were wrongfully accused of cheating on English language tests.

The letter, written on behalf of hundreds of students, calls for justice and accuses the Home Office of “branding us frauds and forcing us to bear a lifelong mark of shame”.

Migrant Voice, the organisation supporting the students, says that some have been “living a nightmare” and are now destitute, having spent all their money trying to clear their names.

Nomi Raja, 28, who came to study business management in London in 2011, said that he had passed the test successfully but had been later arrested by officials from the Home Office.

“The Home Office including immigration, enforcement officers and police came to my house,” he said.

“They banged on my door, they came inside and asked for my ID.

“They looked at it and said ‘you’re under arrest’ then they put me in handcuffs…and detained me straight away.

International students call for action (Victoria Jones/PA)
International students call for action (Victoria Jones/PA)

“I was really shocked about it.

“I had no clue why all of this was happening and the officers from the Home Office refused to answer me.”

Mr Raja said he spent over 125 days in detention and lost his rights to work, rent and access NHS healthcare.

He said he had endured years of “detentions and deportation threats” before clearing his name, but added that many were still struggling.

“I feel like I’m out of the mess after five and a half years and spending over £30,000 in legal costs, but still other campaigners are still struggling because the Home Office refuse to give us justice,” he said.

“We are demanding justice.

“All we want is our future back.”

The letter will be delivered to the Prime Minister by Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham, who says many of his constituents have been affected by the allegations of cheating.

“It’s since become quite clear that many of those students, probably most of them, were completely innocent of the charge that was made against them,” he said.

“They have been in limbo in the five or six years ever since, they’re not allowed to study, they’re not allowed to work.

“Their money has gone, often their family’s life savings were invested in getting them a decent British education that’s been completely lost.

“These students have been very very unjustly treated.”

Mr Timms added that the Government had failed to ask sufficient questions at the time that the allegations were made against the students.

“I am appalled by the terrible hardship that has been inflicted on them by a false allegation that the British Government simply accepted.

“Now is the time to put the matter right.”

“I will be delivering this letter to the Prime Minister.

“I want him to look at this and I want the Home Office to recognise that, as with the Windrush scandal, they got this very, very wrong.”

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Home Office’s reaction to the “systemic failure” had been “flawed”, and that revoking visas before verifying evidence led to “injustice and hardship for many thousands of international students”.

A PAC report found last year that the department had “rushed to penalise” those accused of cheating without checking whether evidence against them was reliable.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The courts have consistently found that the evidence the Home Office had at the time was sufficient to take action.

“However, we acknowledge that these events took place some years ago and we have revised guidance to caseworkers to ensure that we are taking the right decisions.

“The guidance is clear, an invalid Test of English for International Communications certificate in a previous application is not a mandatory ground for refusal and the case worker decision must take all relevant factors into account.”