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London, March 21 – A group of international students, including many Indians, who had their visas revoked almost 10 years ago after accusations of cheating in English language tests in the UK, have called on British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to help them clear their names after years of living in limbo.
According to a Guardian report, the visas were revoked after a 2014 BBC documentary reported allegations of cheating at two of the UK’s language testing centres for international students.
Following a probe by Educational Testing Service (ETS), a company that ran the test at 96 exam centres, the UK Home Office abruptly terminated the visas of more than 34,000 overseas students, making their stay in the country illegal overnight.
A further 22,000 were told that their test results were “questionable”.
These students’ were thrown out of their universities with immediate effect, and with no right to stay, work or in a few cases to appeal.
They struggled with homelessness, huge legal fees, stress-induced illnesses and many others returned home, according to Migrant Voice, an organisation, which is supporting these students.
After judges and watchdog reports highlighted flaws in the evidence of cheating, a few students won their cases, but many others, who are still stuck in limbo, will be presenting a petition to Downing Street on Tuesday afternoon.
The affected students include a 46-year-old Indian woman who has been separated from her children for more than a decade because her community asked her to clear cheating allegations over her before returning home.
It also includes an Indian man who is being sued by the company that sponsored him to come to the UK, the Guardian report said.
In their petition to the UK’s Indian-origin Prime Minister, the students have called for a simple, free mechanism to apply for a decision or reconsideration of their case.
They also want the immigration record of every student cleared of cheating, and facilitate their return to study, or support those on work or entrepreneur visas to find new jobs or restart their businesses — by removing barriers created by the cheating allegations.
“The students came here to get a world-class education and the best student experience in the world, but instead their lives have been wrecked. It is time for the government to step in and end this nightmare,” Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice, told the Guardian.
According to a 2019 report by the Public Accounts Committee, the Home Office “rushed to penalise overseas students, and did not bother to find out whether ETS was involved in fraud or if it had reliable evidence”.
“It is entirely unacceptable that, despite now recognising that hundreds of people maintain their innocence, the Home Office has not acted to put right the wrongs caused by its actions,” the Guardian said quoting the report.