UK English test scandal: Foreign students launch legal action against Home Office

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A group of international students, who were falsely accused of cheating in English language tests in the UK, have launched legal proceedings against the Home Office. The students, many of them from countries like India and Pakistan, are now seeking compensation for unlawful detention, false imprisonment, loss of earnings, and damage to their mental health, ITV News reported.

Bindmans, a law firm representing 23 students who have already won immigration appeals and had their visas returned, is now working to obtain a blanket compensation scheme for them. Between October 2020 and March 2022, the firm issued 23 claims with only one case being settled so far. The move comes 10 years after the Home Office abruptly terminated the visas of 35,000 international students, making their stay in the country illegal overnight.

A 2014 BBC documentary reported “organised cheating” at two of the UK’s language testing centres for international students, run by third parties on behalf of US-based test provider, Educational Testing Service (ETS). After the BBC report, then Home Secretary Theresa May asked ETS to investigate, which found that 97 per cent of its English tests taken in the UK between 2011 and 2014 were in some way suspicious.

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A 2019 report by the Public Accounts Committee said the Home Office “rushed to penalise overseas students, and did not bother to find out whether ETS was involved in fraud or if it had reliable evidence.” “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,” a Home Office spokesperson told ITV News.

The students had also approached and presented a petition to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March last year, seeking his help to clear their names. In their petition to the Prime Minister, the students called for a simple, free mechanism to apply for a decision or reconsideration of their case.