Branded cheats, they're fighting back

The UK Home Office is under fire for revoking the visas of tens of thousands of foreigners after it accused them of cheating in an English language test.

Posted: Sep 5, 2018 4:28 AM
Updated: Sep 5, 2018 4:52 AM

A group of UK lawmakers are calling for an independent inquiry into the Home Office's treatment of tens of thousands of foreign nationals, mostly students, whose visas were revoked or refused after they were accused of cheating on an English language test in 2014.

Speaking in a debate at Westminster, Labour MP Wes Streeting described the issue as "Britain's forgotten immigration scandal" and accused the government of acting in an "unlawful way" by ordering those affected to leave the country without any chance to retake the test, access the evidence against them, or appeal the decision from within the UK.

Streeting said that the issue was a "global embarrassment to our country" and likely to have a significant, negative impact on the reputation of the UK abroad, most notably in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the home countries of many of the accused.

"Blanket decisions were made and people were deported without the chance to defend themselves," Streeting said, adding that "an independent inquiry is absolutely necessary."

Several lawmakers described the issue as a scandal on the scale of -- or even larger -- than the Windrush case, which erupted this year after it was revealed that some British citizens who arrived in the UK in the post-war years from Commonwealth countries were being wrongly detained and deported.

Any future inquiry into the issue of alleged cheating can only be ordered by the government and would likely take many months or even years to complete.

Tens of thousands affected

Since the Home Office began revoking thousands of study and work visas in 2014 on the basis that the applicants had used fraud to pass their English test, known as TOEIC, the government has faced serious allegations of wrongdoing from members of Parliament and senior judges regarding its handling of the situation and its failure to provide sufficient evidence in court to prove the claims of fraud.

In the first two years after the accusations emerged, the UK Home Office revoked or refused more than 28,000 visas and deported more than 4,600 people on the basis of the claims, according to a 2016 report by the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee, a cross-party group of members of Parliament who scrutinize the department's policies.

Hundreds of the accused -- many in the UK and others in their home countries -- are still embroiled in legal battles, through which they hope to clear their names.

Those in the UK are considered illegal immigrants and do not have the right to work, study, rent a house or access public services.

Responding to Streeting and other lawmakers questioning the conduct of the Home Office Tuesday, immigration minister Caroline Nokes said that the government had taken "immediate and robust action" after the possibility of large-scale fraud was first revealed by a BBC documentary in early 2014, and that all action taken had been "measured and proportionate."

"I regret that innocent applicants may have been caught up in widespread fraud," she said, adding in response to a question from a lawmaker that no compensation had been offered to those who had won their cases and cleared their names, despite the years-long legal process they had undergone.

Unhappy with Nokes' answers, Labour MP Lyn Brown called for the Home Office to issue an apology to all those wrongly accused and an acknowledgment "of how unfair and unjust this has been."

"People have been separated from their families, detained and deported from the UK ... their assets stripped away," Brown said, adding that "the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Home Office."

Nokes 'not prepared to listen'

Kazi Ruhullah, one of the foreign nationals accused of cheating in 2014, is fighting his case in the courts and says his life "has been torn apart" by the allegation. He hasn't seen his fiancee in Bangladesh for four years, but says he cannot return to his country while the allegation still stands.

"I would never cheat, I respect the rules," he said.

After watching the debate Tuesday, Kazi says that he still has hope that his case -- and those of thousands of others -- can still be resolved, but that he heard nothing from Nokes that suggested the Home Office would alter its position soon.

"No impact has been seen in her heart," he said.

Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, a London-based migrant advocacy charity that published a report accusing the government of a "four-year failure" on the TOEIC issue, said that Nokes is "a politician who is not prepared to listen and engage," adding, "we're in a total mess if she's in charge."

Ramadan said she was pleased to see MPs raising specific cases of those affected, saying that their contributions "gave us trust back in Parliament."

"We have been asking: all this injustice is happening, where are the MPs?" Ramadan said.

Migrant Voice is calling for an immediate end to the detention and deportation of those affected and for those accused to be given the opportunity to retake the test.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 110592

Reported Deaths: 3171
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7731171
DeSoto655177
Harrison478481
Jackson429178
Rankin380086
Madison371092
Lee339279
Forrest292777
Jones281682
Washington250697
Lafayette241342
Lauderdale2329130
Lamar212038
Bolivar197775
Oktibbeha194154
Neshoba1795111
Lowndes173662
Panola164736
Leflore158786
Sunflower156749
Warren151854
Monroe143672
Pontotoc143019
Pike135555
Lincoln133954
Copiah133336
Marshall130026
Coahoma122836
Scott122729
Grenada119637
Simpson117648
Yazoo116933
Union113825
Holmes113060
Tate112339
Leake111839
Itawamba108724
Pearl River107456
Adams104042
Prentiss100919
Wayne97921
Alcorn94412
George93217
Marion92642
Covington90825
Tippah84820
Newton84227
Chickasaw81724
Tallahatchie81725
Winston81421
Tishomingo78640
Hancock76527
Attala76325
Clarke70948
Clay66621
Jasper66016
Walthall63427
Calhoun60912
Noxubee59516
Smith57716
Claiborne53016
Montgomery52723
Tunica51817
Lawrence48914
Yalobusha47914
Perry47522
Carroll45812
Greene44717
Stone44614
Amite41513
Quitman4096
Humphreys39916
Jefferson Davis39311
Webster36313
Wilkinson32920
Kemper31615
Benton3004
Sharkey27714
Jefferson26210
Franklin2283
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 152272

Reported Deaths: 2621
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22300372
Mobile14273314
Tuscaloosa9886132
Montgomery9615196
Madison895192
Shelby700260
Lee643066
Baldwin636967
Marshall425348
Calhoun408459
Etowah399149
Morgan393232
Houston362332
DeKalb313326
Elmore308152
St. Clair276742
Limestone268327
Walker264192
Talladega253634
Cullman223923
Lauderdale204340
Autauga198928
Franklin198131
Jackson197914
Russell18993
Colbert188927
Dallas184527
Blount182723
Chilton178731
Escambia170328
Covington164429
Coffee16299
Dale161551
Pike130112
Tallapoosa126986
Chambers126643
Clarke126116
Marion103929
Butler99640
Barbour9819
Marengo96421
Winston88613
Geneva8297
Pickens79317
Randolph79314
Lawrence78830
Bibb78513
Hale73729
Cherokee71414
Clay70312
Lowndes69827
Bullock63417
Henry6286
Monroe6259
Washington62012
Crenshaw58830
Perry5796
Conecuh55413
Wilcox55412
Fayette54012
Macon52819
Cleburne5207
Sumter46421
Lamar4555
Choctaw38612
Greene33316
Coosa1963
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 65°
Columbus
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 65°
Oxford
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 66°
Starkville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather