A GOVERNMENT watchdog has started an investigation into the Home Office’s decision to cancel 36,000 student visas over accusations of cheating in English language tests.
The Home Office has also kicked out more than 1,000 people while hundreds have spent time in detention – but huge numbers of students have insisted they have done nothing wrong.
More than 300 cases are pending in the court of appeal as hundreds fight to clear their names.
MPs have suggested the latest immigration scandal could be “bigger than Windrush”.
That scandal involved wrongful detentions and deportations of thousands of the Windrush generation – those who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries, and led to the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
The cheating scandal came to light following a 2014 BBC Panorama documentary that highlighted evidence of widespread exam fraud in English language tests.
Reporters uncovered fraud at two government-approved centres that did the mandatory language tests.
They handed the footage to Theresa May, then Home Secretary, who said the evidence was “very shocking” and promised to take action.
Mrs May have vowed to create a “hostile environment” for migrants thought to be in the UK illegally.
The Home Office found that out of 58,458 students who had taken the test between 2011 and 2014, 34,000 had “definitely cheated” while another 22,600 had “questionable results”.
However campaigners have said many students were wrongly accused and haven’t been given a chance to clear their name.
Labour MP Stephen Timms described the Home Office’s treatment of the students as a “disgrace”.
He told the BBC Victoria Derbyshire show: “They trusted Britain to provide them with a decent education. Instead, they’ve been falsely accused of cheating and been given no chance to appeal.”
Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, a charity that has been supporting those affected for several years, told the Guardian: “This is an important step on the road to justice for thousands of innocent students.”
‘BIGGER THAN WINDRUSH’
Those who stayed in the UK have been unable to carry on with their studies and are prevented from working while they try to prove their innocence.
They are also unable to open bank accounts or rent properties. Allegations of cheating makes it difficult to apply for studies elsewhere.
Bangladeshi student Fatema Chowdhury arrived in the UK in 2010 and completed her law degree in 2014 at the University of London.
She was accused of cheating and was detained for a week. She denies any wrongdoing.
Ms Chowdury has not been told to leave the UK, but while she remains in the country she is prevented from working and cannot use the NHS for free.
She told the BBC: “During my delivery last year they charged me £14,000 just to have a baby”.
Another student Nidhin Chand, an Indian woman living in Scotland, was accused of using a stand-in take her English language test for her visa application.
Denying the allegations, she said: “I have been crying every day. It is painful when someone calls you a fraud and arrests you in front of the public and humiliates you.”
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Mosiur Rahman, 30, arrived in the UK from Bangladesh to study a decade ago and has degrees from three British universities.
His application to extend his visa in 2015 was turned down when he was accused of cheating in his test three years earlier.
He is appealing the claims, insisting the decision was based on incorrect information.
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He told the BBC: “My family and I are stuck in some sort of open jail in the UK.
“I cannot go back home, I cannot move in the country, I cannot start my professional life even after I have three UK university degrees.
“I now suffer mental health depression and have been on medication for a very long time.”
In response to the new watchdog investigation, a Home Office spokesman said: “We have been supporting the National Audit Office in its work on this investigation since the start of the year.
“We will consider the findings of the report once it is published.”
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