Ground breaking legal ruling brings ETS/TOEIC discrimination to an end

Foreign students must take a language test to meet UK immigration requirements. A television documentary in 2014 exposed cases of ETS tests being taken fraudulently which led to Home Office subsequently ending its contract with the US based ETS firm and some other educational establishments, and investigated their students who had relied on English tests for their UK visas. Some of these people were eventually deported.

The secret filming of Government exams students had to undertake to be able to get the visa showed in 2014 that large numbers of students were cheating their way to passing the exam. ETS, one of the largest language testing firms in the world defended themselves by saying they were doing everything in their power to prevent cheating.

At that time, Theresa May said she was shocked to find out about what BBC Panorama discovered.

BBC reporters pretended to be students with very poor English skills in need to pass the ETS test to be able to stay in the country. They were told for £500 someone else would take the test for them and the only thing they have to do is come to the test and have their picture taken. All of them did as told and scored highly in all three tests, one of them getting 100% in spoken English skills.  They all took the exam at Eden College International in east London. Eden College International strongly denied any prior knowledge of the frauds. They only mentioned they investigated allegations against three freelance TOEIC exam invigilators and did not renew their contracts.

Because of the BBC Documentary more than 19,000 international students were told to leave the UK or were barred from the country, following claims that qualifications offered by Educational Testing Service were targeted by fraudsters. Three universities and dozens of colleges had their visa licenses suspended in June 2014 as the Home Office took action against institutions that had significant numbers of students with ETS qualifications, and against the students, following the fraud claims. Although the universities involved were eventually allowed to start recruiting again, figures showed that the Home Office action resulted in at least 84 private colleges losing their visa sponsorship rights while decisions to refuse a visa application, curtail an existing visa or remove a student were made in “more than 19,700” cases after the visa license suspensions. The figures also revealed that 900 of these students were held in detention centers after being served with removal notices.

Two unnamed ex-students appealed against claims that they had cheated in their test.

Britain’s upper immigration tribunal ruled on Wednesday that the Home Office had failed to establish that the two test case students were guilty of deliberate deception.

“Apart from the limited hearsay evidence there was no evidence from the protagonist in this saga, the ETS organization,” the tribunal’s ruling said. “The secretary of state has not discharged the legal burden of establishing that either appellant procured his [English language] certificate by dishonesty.”

An expert witness had set out several criticisms about ETS’s voice – recognition testing system, which had not been challenged by “any competing expert witness”, the judgment said. The tribunal accepted the expert evidence in full.

Although it is not clear how many people were deported on the basis of their ETS test being called into question by the Home Office, more than 30,000 test scores were considered suspect.

One of the solicitors who represented one of the two test-case students said he had encountered more than 100 examples of foreign students being either deported or held in a detention center “for months” because they had taken an ETS English test. Dozens of them already had an UK degree, meaning they did not even have to take the ETS test, they had enough proof of their English skills. The home secretary detained and removed thousands of individuals from the UK on the basis of evidence that was comprehensively demolished in this case. Parliamentary inquiry into the Home Office’s conduct has been called for. We are still waiting for Theresa May to address this ruling, somehow we doubt she will be shocked this time.

It is clear that there are many people who speak impeccable English, and who have broken no laws, who have been denied the right to live in the UK. Common sense should prevail and the Home Office itself should examine each and every case again.

This groundbreaking verdict could open the doors for thousands of deported students returning to the UK and claiming compensation. Taxpayer’s money well spent.

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