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TOEIC Visa Cancellations — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 4th September 2018.

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Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North 4:30 pm, 4th September 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered TOEIC visa cancellations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I place on record my enormous thanks to my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, who has put in a huge amount of hard work, not least in helping us to secure the debate. If he were not attending the Offensive Weapons Bill Committee, which unfortunately clashes, he would have been with us for the duration.

We are here to discuss Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal, which has seen thousands of international students wrongly deported and tens of thousands more left in limbo. Their lives have been plunged into chaos by a Government who have effectively branded them all cheats, defied the principles of natural justice and created a hostile environment for international students. In 2014, BBC’s “Panorama” uncovered evidence of widespread cheating at testing centres delivering the test of English for international communication—the TOEIC—on behalf of the Home Office for non-EEA students as part of the tier 4 visa. It discovered that, in some colleges, exam invigilators read the correct answers to students or supplied proxies to sit sections of the test. The provider administering the tests, Educational Testing Service, claimed that 33,725 people who took the test used a proxy, and it suspected a further 22,694 instances of fraud.

That abuse on such a scale was allowed to take place at a Home Office-approved provider was clearly a source of political embarrassment for the Government and the Home Secretary of the day, who is now our Prime Minister. When immigration system abuse goes unchecked and unchallenged, it undermines public confidence in the system and the Government responsible for it. When individuals are found to be cheating the system, it is right that their visas are cancelled and they are asked to leave the country. When providers are found to be failing in their responsibility to ensure that tests are fairly and properly delivered, it is right that they are removed from the list of approved providers.

Cheating cannot be condoned or excused—there is no disagreement about that. The Minister comes to this issue with a fresh pair of eyes, and therein lies an opportunity to reflect on what has gone wrong and put right a terrible injustice. What we have seen in the TOEIC scandal is a Home Office response so appalling that it was described by one immigration tribunal judge as

“so unfair and unreasonable as to amount to an abuse of power.”

The 22,694 students whose test results had been deemed questionable because ETS had “limited confidence” in the tests’ validity because of administrative irregularity were permitted to sit a new secure English language test. When the Minister responds, I hope she will tell us how many of those students were required to pay for those new tests and, crucially, what the outcomes of those tests were.

For those whose test results were deemed invalid by ETS, the Home Office relied on the assurances of an untrustworthy provider to presume the guilt of tens of thousands of international students without properly considering the merits of individual cases or giving those students an opportunity to defend their innocence. According to figures obtained by the House of Commons Library, by the end of September 2016—the last time the Home Office published any figures related to such cases—more than 35,870 visa holders had had their visas refused or curtailed on the basis of the TOEIC test. More than 3,600 of those had received an enforcement visit and more than 4,600 had been subjected to removal from the country.