UK English test scandal: Indians, other foreign students renew bid to clear their names

According to a report, recent fresh evidence questions the UK Home Office's cheating allegations against 35,000 international students

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Representative image
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IANS

A group of international students, including many Indians, who had their visas revoked almost 10 years ago after accusations of cheating in English language tests in the UK, are making renewed efforts to clear their names.

According to a report in the Guardian, fresh evidence has recently been presented in court that questions the UK Home Office's cheating allegations against 35,000 international students.

The Home Office abruptly terminated the visas of these students, making their stay in the country illegal overnight, following a 2014 BBC documentary reporting allegations of cheating at two of the UK's language testing centres for international students.

About 2,500 students were deported after immigration enforcement teams mounted dawn raids on students’ accommodation, the news report said. While some 7,200 students left the country after detention threats, thousands stayed protesting "flawed evidence" as they struggled with homelessness, huge legal fees, and stress-induced illnesses.

After judges and watchdog reports highlighted flaws in the evidence of cheating, around 3,600 won appeals against the Home Office, while the rest of them couldn't because of the prohibitive cost of taking legal action.

Abdul Qadir Mohammad (36), who left India in 2010 to study business in London, spent more than £20,000 trying to clear his name in the scandal, pushing him and his family into debt. Abdul told the Guardian that he gets "panic attacks" and feels "ashamed to face my family back home" who ask him, "Abdul you have lived in the UK for 14 years. What have you achieved?"

"...my father is still angry with me. He has spent so much money first on my education and then on trying to clear my name. He had a small grocery shop and saved up to put £15,000 pounds into my college fees. I’ve got debts on my credit card of £10,000. My mother sold her gold to support me..." he said.

The Hyderabad resident said he feels angry about how the whole issue has been handled, destroying his life. "These tests are easy to pass; I had no reason to cheat... I want to clear my name and get on with my studies. I spend my days sitting in the park, desperately waiting for my hearing,” he told the Guardian.


The students had also approached and presented a petition to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March 2023, 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.

They also wanted the immigration record of every student cleared of cheating, facilitate their return to study, or support those on work or entrepreneur visas to find new jobs or restart their businesses — by removing barriers created by the cheating allegations.

After the BBC report, then home secretary Theresa May asked the US-based test provider, Educational Testing Service (ETS) to investigate, leading to the discovery that 97 per cent of its English tests taken in the UK between 2011 and 2014 were in some way suspicious.

According to a 2019 report by the Public Accounts Committee, 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".

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