The Home Affairs Select Committee will hold a full inquiry into the forced removal of international students accused of cheating in their English language tests, describing the department’s “extraordinary” judgement as based on “questionable or insufficient evidence”.
In a report published today, the committee of MPs said the inquiry will determine whether the Home Office’s actions were “proportionate and just” and look into several outstanding issues relating to English language testing, including “procurement and licensing, investigations, inspections and how much money has been spent”.
The committee called on the Home Office to set out the process for out-of-country appeals from deported students and the steps that will be taken to ensure fair hearings in these cases, and clarify whether this will include appellants being given access to the evidence against them.
Theresa May, the home secretary, instituted a crackdown that resulted in more than 19,000 international students being told to leave the UK or barred from the country, following claims that qualifications offered by Educational Testing Service were targeted by fraudsters.
Three universities and dozens of colleges had their visa licences suspended in June 2014 as the Home Office took action against institutions that had significant numbers of students with ETS qualifications, and against the students, following the fraud claims.
In March, the Home Office lost a test case brought by two students whom the government had intended to deport. Judges ruled that Ms May relied on “hearsay” evidence and did not prove her case that the students had cheated in their English language tests.
The select committee added that it will insist that ETS gives evidence to the committee, “something they have failed to do in court”.
The committee’s report, The Work of the Immigration Directorates (Q4 2015): Second Report of Session 2016-17, says the department’s judgment “appears to have been a knee-jerk reaction” to the BBC Panorama investigation that uncovered the cheating scam in February 2014 and “raises serious questions about the conduct of the Home Office”.
“The Home Office appears to have accepted at face value, and continues to accept, claims of widespread fraud from ETS – a company that was part of the problem, had already been discredited and is subject to criminal investigation,” the committee said.
“This is deeply troubling, particularly given that an expert witness has raised serious questions over the reliability and accuracy of ETS’s analysis and first did so well over a year ago. Despite this, arrests and removals have continued.”
The report adds that the committee received evidence that people were told why their visas were being revoked only after extensive requests for information, and that those affected “did not have the opportunity to review and contest evidence presented against them”.
The National Union of Students welcomed the report.
Mostafa Rajaai, NUS international students’ officer, said: “This whole debacle is indicative of the Home Office’s wider aggressive approach to international students and other migrants in the UK. I’m pleased the Home Affairs Select Committee is taking the treatment of international students seriously, as clearly the Home Office does not.
“International students contribute billions of pounds to British society, enable home students to benefit from diverse classrooms and bring wider cultural benefits to this country. It is only right that they are treated with fairness and respect whilst they are studying here.”