A Government watchdog is investigating the Home Office’s decision to cancel 36,000 student’s visas after accusing them of cheating in English language tests.
More than 1,000 students have been kicked out of the UK as a result and hundreds have been detained, but many insist they have done nothing wrong.
MPs have warned the immigration scandal could be ‘bigger than Windrush’ with over 300 cases waiting in the court of appeal.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has announced it will go ahead with a formal investigation into how the Home Office has handled the situation and expects to report its findings in late May or June.
On its website the independent parliamentary body said: ‘In 2014, a BBC Panorama documentary drew attention to fraud in the UK student visa system, including widespread cheating in test of English for international communication (Toeic).
‘The Home Office revoked student visas where there was evidence of cheating, but its decisions have come under renewed public and parliamentary scrutiny in the wake of the Windrush scandal.
‘The NAO is looking at the information held by the Home Office on the number of people alleged to have cheated and the action the Home Office has taken to date.’
Indian student Nidhin Chand denies accusations of cheating (Picture: BBC)
Following the BBC documentary which uncovered cheating in international students’ English language exams at two test centres, Theresa May, then home secretary, promised a crackdown.
The Home Office said that out of the 58,458 students who had taken the test between 2011 and 2014, 34,000 had ‘definitely cheated’ and 22,600 had ‘questionable results.’
The Government department said only 2,000 definitely had not cheated, the Guardian reports.
Eyebrows have now been raised at the Home Office’s figures with MPs and campaigners questioning whether that many people could have cheated in a Home Office sanctioned test.
Labour MP Stephen Timms said many innocent students have been ‘treated so disgracefully’ and welcomed the NAO’s decision.
Stephen Timms has called the Home Office’s handling of the issue ‘disgraceful’ (Picture: PA)
Nazek Ramadan, director of the Migrant Voice charity said: ‘This is an important step on the road to justice for thousands of innocent students.
‘Many were wrongly accused and have spent the last five years trying to clear their names in the courts.’
She said students are finding themselves ‘trapped in a legal labyrinth’ of Home Office delays, appeals and daily deportation threats.
The charity says many students are experiencing ‘severe mental health problems’, having been deprived of the right to work, study or access healthcare.
Mr Ramadan added: ‘The criminal allegation against them means that they cannot continue their studies, get a good job or obtain a visa to travel anywhere in the world. The Home Office’s handling of this issue has been spectacularly unfair and opaque, and it’s high time the truth was brought to light.’
Fatema Chowdhury, who came to the UK from Bangladesh in 2010 and completed her law degree at the University of London in 2014 was accused of cheating and denies all wrongdoing.
She hasn’t been told to the leave the country but she cannot work or use the NHS for free and was charged £14,000 last year to have her baby.
Indian national Nidhin Chand, who lives in Scotland, was accused of using someone else to take the English language test for her.
Denying the allegations, she told the BBC: ‘I have been crying every day. It was painful when someone calls you a fraud and arrests you in front of the public and humiliates you.’
A Home Office spokesperson 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.’
Last year the NAO slammed the Home Office in a report on its handling of the Windrush scandal which saw many people brought to the UK from Commonwealth countries as children being wrongly classified as illegal immigrants.