The Home Office & TOEIC: "You can't handle the truth!"


In 2014 the Home Office (and the public) became aware of the fact that two test centres in the UK had engaged in fraudulent behaviour when it came to administering English language tests. 

Most UK visas require the applicant to demonstrate that they speak the English language to a certain level and this is often evidenced by taking a Home Office approved test. In 2014, the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) was an approved Home Office test. The tests were administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). 

The fraudulent behaviour occurred when the test invigilators read out the answers to questions or arranged for a native English speaker to take the test on behalf of a candidate. 

This was all revealed in a BBC Panorama documentary in 2014 and the reaction of the Home Office was swift...but not necessarily reasonable. 

There was no evidence that fraud had been committed elsewhere as the Panorama documentary only covered two test centres in London.  Yet 36,000 student visas were cancelled without any evidence that the student had actually engaged in deceptive behaviour. It didnt matter where the test was taken and what the student was studying - if you had TOEIC, your visa was cancelled with immediate effect and you became an illegal migrant. Those same students were not given an opportunity to defend themselves against the allegations and many found their dreams destroyed as a result of the Home Office blanket policy of tarring all who took the TOEIC test as a fraudsters. 

I tend to get involved in these cases when a right of challenge has been secured. In every single case that I have litigated, the Home Office have failed time and time again to support their allegations of deception. The starting position of the Home Office is that the student has cheated and this is based on the say-so of ETS. This is the legal equivalent to saying that the sky is green because your next door neighbour said so. 

The fact that Sajid Javid is looking at making a decision on how these cases are handled in future is refreshing - for the thousands of students who have been labelled as criminals. It will be a welcoming development in what is otherwise seen as a bit of David vs Goliath legal battle. 

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The home secretary, Sajid Javid, is under mounting pressure to head off an immigration scandal that MPs have warned could be “bigger than Windrush”. About 34,000 foreign students have had their visas cancelled or curtailed and more than 1,000 people were forcibly removed from the UK as a result of the English language testing scandal, which involved the government accusing tens of thousands of students who sat a Home Office-approved test of cheating.
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