Overseas Students: English Language Tests

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 30th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 12:46 pm, 30th April 2019

I thank the Minister for her answer, and I am pleased to see the Home Secretary in his place. I congratulate him on achieving one year in his role today. On his first day in the post, I asked him to take a careful look at this issue, and he said that he would. On 1 April this year, I asked him for an update. He said:

“We had a further meeting to make some final decisions just last week, and I will be in touch with him shortly.”—[Official Report, 1 April 2019;
Vol. 657, c. 799.]

But in the month since, nothing has been announced. Many students face desperate hardship and need urgently to know the decision, because their future depends on it.

As the Minister said, the Home Office cancelled the visas of those who ETS claimed, from its analysis, had definitely cheated. The claim by ETS that almost 97% of those who sat their test had cheated seems completely implausible, but we will let that pass. Colleges had to expel those who had their visas cancelled. By the end of 2016, there had been more than 35,870 refusal, curtailment and removal decisions in ETS cases and more than 4,600 removals and departures. One estimate is that at least 2,000 of those denied visas are still in the UK.

In-country appeals were not allowed, but some have got cases to court. A growing number have convinced the courts that they did not cheat. One showed that he never actually took a TOEIC test, and yet he had his visa cancelled because it was alleged that he had cheated in one. It has proved extraordinarily hard for students to obtain from ETS the recordings said to be of them taking the test. One computer expert told the Appeal Court that ETS’s evidence is worthless. The Appeal Court has criticised the Home Office’s evidence and said in 2017 that it was unlawful to force students to leave the country in order to appeal. Many of those affected speak excellent English so had no motive at all to pay someone else to take the test for them.

Thrown off their courses and denied any refund of their fees, the students cannot study or work. Some invested their families’ life savings to obtain a British degree. The savings have gone. They have no qualification and no income. They depend on kindly friends but say they could not endure the shame of going home with nothing, having apparently been convicted of cheating in the UK. Understandably, mental health problems are rife. Does the Minister agree that those who lost their visas on TOEIC grounds but remain in the UK should have the opportunity to sit a new test and, if they pass, obtain a visa in order to complete their studies and clear their names?