A UK-based body fighting for the rights of migrants today launched a campaign here demanding that thousands of international students, including Indians, accused of cheating by the British government in an English language examination be allowed to re-sit the test to prove their innocence.
The Migrant Voice believed that nearly 56,000 students have been caught up in the scandal, which emerged as part of a media sting operation that exposed cases of fraud in government-mandated English tests required for some student visas.
The handling of the issue contradicts basic principles of British life, including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the imposition of collective punishment, said Nazek Ramadan, the director of Migrant Voice, who launched the campaign in the UK Parliament complex.
Those with questionable results were given the chance to re-sit a test or attend an interview before action was taken against them but the others were made to abandon their courses and in many cases forced to return to their countries of origin.
The Migrant Voice also released a new report entitled I want my future back' based on the experiences of people, who arrived in the UK between 2004 and 2011, and were affected by the investigation.
In 2014 and 2015 alone, the Home Office revoked visas of tens of thousands of international students and often detained and removed them, the report stated.
The knock-on effect has derailed careers and long-term aspirations. It has pushed people out of work and into poverty and debt, it added.
Among the case studies in the report includes the experience of Shehbaz, a 30-year-old Indian student held in a detention centre.
My experience was so horrific that I had panic attacksI was completely broken mentally and physically with weakness. I felt like I was a criminal, he was quoted as saying in the report.
Other international students affected include those from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, some of whom have also interviewed for the report.
It has been suggested that up to 7,000 students have been wrongly accused. They have suffered grave injustice; many find themselves in an appalling situation, he said, adding that he has raised the issue with UK home secretary Sajid Javid to reassess the situation.
The Home Office claimed number of steps were taken to ensure that the process for establishing the test results were invalid was robust.
In February 2014, investigations into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating, which was indicative of large scale organised fraud. The government took immediate robust action on this, which has been measured and proportionate, and so far more than 20 people have received criminal convictions for their role in this deception, a Home Office spokesperson said.
The TOEIC is conducted by a US organisation, Educational Testing Service (ETS), at a large number of test centres across Britain. The spoken English part of the test involves the candidate being recorded reading a text, with the recording then being sent to an ETS assessor for marking.
After the BBC exposed some cheating on these tests, the Home Office instructed ETS to use voice recognition software to check test recordings from the test centres in question. On the basis of ETS' information, the Home Office took the decision to revoke many of the visas.
While the Home Office said that any false matches emanating from the voice recognition software was very small, campaigners have claimed that the figure is in fact very large.
The Home Office failed to give any evidence of its allegations. Some students were accused of cheating at the TOEIC in a city or place they have never visited, or of taking the test on a date on which they did not take it. One student who has never ever taken the test was among those accused, the Migrant Voice report said.
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