English visa test scandal: Legal action launched by students wrongly accused of cheating

Credit: PA

Overseas students who had their visas revoked after being wrongly accused of cheating in an English language test have launched legal challenges against the Home Office, ITV News understands.

Law firm Bindmans is hoping to obtain a blanket compensation scheme for 23 students who had their visas cancelled between 2011 and 2014 after claims they cheated on the test.

The students, who have already won immigration appeals and had their visas returned, are now seeking financial compensation for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, loss of earnings and damage to their mental health.

Bindmans issued the claims between October 2020 and March 2022 but only one case has settled.

It comes 10 years after the Home Office took measures to reject the visas of an estimated 35,000 international students.

What happened in the English test scandal?

In 2014, BBC Panorama broadcast footage revealing “organised cheating” in two English language test centres run by third parties on behalf of non-profit organisation Educational Testing Service (ETS).

ETS used voice recognition technology to establish who had cheated by having someone else sit their test.

It sparked a government crackdown on test centres and after review by human listeners and other checks, ETS identified 97% of UK tests taken between 2011 and 2014 as suspicious, with 58% of 58,459 tests classified as “invalid” and 39% as “questionable”.

The Home Office responded by investigating colleges, test centres and students, and began cancelling the visas of those it considered to have cheated in the Test Of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

But a number of people caught up in the response have protested their innocence.

In May 2019, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned innocent people may have been removed from the UK after they were wrongly accused of cheating in English language tests.

But it said the Home Office’s action against overseas students “carried with it the possibility” that some of those affected might have been branded cheats and removed from the UK despite being innocent.

The NAO report also revealed thousands of people accused of cheating had won the right to remain in the country.

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What has the Home Office said in response to the legal action?

A Home Office spokesperson told ITV News: “The 2014 investigation into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud.

“The evidence provided by ETS, the action the Home Office took and the counter arguments have all been considered in the series of litigation since 2014. Courts have consistently found the evidence was sufficient to take the action we did.

"Given scale of fraud it is impossible to say that nobody was wrongly affected and we acknowledge a number of appeals have succeeded. However, we continue to believe there was a large-scale problem with cheating."

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