Stephen welcomes Public Accounts Committee report on TOEIC


Stephen has welcomed a report published by the Public Accounts Committee in which it found that the Home Office had shown a "staggering" lack of concern for the welfare of students wrongly accused of cheating in their English language exams.

The report focused on a crackdown launched by the Home Office in the wake of a 2014 BBC Panorama documentary which exposed cheating on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). The test - run at the time by the American firm ETS - was used to ensure those studying in the UK had a sufficient understanding of the English language.

The Pubic Accounts Committee said the way the Home Office designed the visa system "left it open to large-scale abuse", and accused the department of having "rushed to penalise students without establishing whether [exams provider] ETS was involved in fraud or if it had reliable evidence of people cheating".

The committee said the Home Office had "been quick to act on imperfect evidence, but slow in responding to indications that innocent people may have been caught up in its actions". It later called on the Home Office to set up a "fair and trustworthy means of helping all individuals who may have been wrongly accused" of cheating within the next three months, and orders the department to carry out a major review of its contracts with overseas providers by early next year.

Commenting on the report, Stephen said: “Today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee makes grim reading for the Home Office.”

“Once again it is found that ministers made repeated errors of judgement when confronted with unsafe and incomplete evidence. The decisions they made have caused untold hardship to thousands of students who overnight had their visas revoked, cancelled or curtailed, with little or no legal redress.

“It is not too late for the Home Office to put right what it got so wrong and finally give the students the justice they deserve.”

This report is the third into the case this year after the National Audit Office and the APPG TOEIC report.

APPG on TOEIC launches report


The All-Party Parliamentary Group on TOEIC has today launched a report following its recent inquiry.

The inquiry found that the US firm , ETS, who were contracted by the Home Office to manage English language tests used evidence alleging students cheated that could not be relied upon. The report concludes that the evidence used against the students was “…confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe”.

Students had immense difficulty in obtaining crucial evidence. Those who did receive voice clips found that they were incomplete, and didn’t correspond to the test they sat. And crucially, there was no metadata on the clips so it was impossible to confirm when or where the recording was made. Without “evidence of continuity”, a case of fraud cannot – and should not – be made.

The report makes seven recommendations to Ministers:

  1. There must be no further detentions or forced removals of students accused of cheating in a TOEIC test;

  2. People who lost their visas because ETS accused them of cheating should be allowed to sit a new, secure English language test, and, if they pass, their previous visa status (or today’s equivalent) should be restored without charge, valid for at least 12 months;

  3. The immigration record of every person who passes the new test should make clear that the allegation of cheating no longer stands;

  4. Higher and further education institutions should be advised that the TOEIC allegation, and related issues such as a break in studies, should be wholly disregarded in assessing applications from these students;

  5. A working group should be established to support students and facilitate their return to study, to support those on work or entrepreneur visas to find new jobs or restart their businesses, and to monitor this support process, with representatives from Home Office, UKVI, Department of Education, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UCAS, relevant third sector and student support organisations, and students themselves;

  6. Financial support should be provided to enable students who lost their fees as a result of a TOEIC allegation to complete their studies;

  7. The Home Office should work with High Commissions in relevant countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, to ensure that those who have returned home or been forcibly removed are informed about these arrangements.

The inquiry heard from lawyer Michael Biggs of 12 Old Square. He has worked on over 100 cases and concluded that the Government developed a process that made it as difficult as possible for those accused of TOEIC fraud to seek legal and financial redress.

Speaking about the report, Stephen said: “…Some students have – at great cost – managed to clear their names. However, universities still see them as a risk due to the nature of the allegations made against them. As things stand, and without help from the Government, their futures remain bleak. This report sets out crucial steps we believe the Government must now take.”

The report can be read here.

Stephen responds to the National Audit Office's report into TOEIC

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Stephen has responded to the National Audit Office’s report following its investigation into the Home Office’s response to cheating by international students in English language tests.

An investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed that some test centres were allowing students to cheat in order that they passed their English language test. The then Home Secretary, Theresa May, reacted by revoking or curtailing thousands of students' visas.

The NAO’s report acknowledges that many innocent students were caught up in the scandal. They have been left for years with no resolution to their case. They have been stripped of the right to study, to work, to find accommodation and to access banking and NHS services.

Speaking about the report, Stephen said: “The National Audit Office has confirmed – as many have been pointing out for years now – that “those affected might have been branded as cheats, lost their course fees, and been removed from the UK without being guilty of cheating”.  And, on top of the NAO’s analysis, there is real doubt if a recording held by ETS is really the one for that applicant. Thousands have been unfairly penalised, with catastrophic consequences for many. 

“The Home Secretary has promised an oral statement to Parliament about this scandal.  He must now give those affected, who remain in the UK, a chance to clear their names – for example, by offering them a fresh English test.”

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, added: “When the Home Office acted vigorously to exclude individuals and shut down colleges involved in the English language test cheating scandal, we think they should have taken an equally vigorous approach to protecting those who did not cheat but who were still caught up in the process, however small a proportion they might be. This did not happen. ”

Stephen presses Minister on help for TOEIC victims

Stephen asked the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade yesterday about educational funding arrangements for TOEIC students.

For those students who are given their British visas back, Graham Stuart MP agreed that he would expect their universities to help them with the cost of tuition fees.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “This is an important concession today from the Government. It would be totally unreasonable to expect students in this position - many of whom have already paid thousands of pounds in savings for their education - to have to pay the fees all over again on their return to university. I am grateful to the Minister for his agreement that those students who have been the victims of false allegations should be helped financially by their universities.”

The exchange took place in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday about the Government Report on International Education Strategy.

Stephen hosts film premiere of "Inquisition" in House of Commons

Stephen has hosted a premiere of Tim Langford’s film, Inquisition, at an event in the House of Commons. The documentary focuses on five students whose visas were curtailed following allegations that they cheated on the TOEIC English language test.

Tim got involved at first to help out at a media training session run by the charity Migrant Voice, and then decided to make a documentary after speaking to some of the students. He told the audience that “…the more I heard, the more I was shocked and disturbed. I absolutely believe the students. All the evidence is on their side. And I feel very strongly they came in with absolute belief and faith in our system, and we let them down really badly as a society.”

After the film was shown, Stephen chaired a panel discussion with Migrant Voice director Nazek Ramadan; Patrick Lewis QC and Sonali Naik QC, both of Garden Court Chambers; and journalists Amelia Gentleman and Robert Wright.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “Tim’s film showed the misery the Home Office has caused in recent years. and I hope it will get the showing and distribution it deserves.”

"The All-Party Parliamentary Group will soon begin an Inquiry into the handling of these cases by the Home Office. Sadly, I imagine some of the testimonies we hear during the course of that will be just as sad as some of those we saw in Tim’s film"

Stephen asks Urgent Question on TOEIC

Earlier today, Stephen Timms secured an Urgent Question in the Chamber on the TOEIC scandal. He used the opportunity to press Home Office Minister Caroline Nokes on when the Government would announce a decision on the TOEIC victims - international students wrongly accused of cheating in their English Language tests.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: "On 1 April the Home Secretary promised to announce a decision about the TOEIC students. One month on, there is still no information. For those who have been wrongly accused of cheating, this wait is intolerable. These are people who are unable to study or work and are totally dependent on the kindness of friends. Their lives are effectively in limbo while they wait for the Home Office's decision".

The Government has commissioned a National Audit Office report into the matter which is due to publish findings next month. Following this, the Home Secretary is expected to give a statement to the House of Commons.

Stephen welcomes NAO investigation


Stephen has welcomed a decision by the National Audit Office to launch an investigation into the Home Office’s decision to accuse about 34,000 international students of cheating in English language tests. It will scrutinise the thinking behind the subsequent cancellation or curtailment of their visas.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has been making preliminary inquiries into the government’s handling of the issue since the beginning of the year, and has now announced that it will proceed with a formal investigation. The body is expected to report its findings in late May or June.

“In 2014, a BBC Panorama documentary drew attention to fraud in the UK student visa system, including widespread cheating in English language tests. 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 said. “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.”

Speaking about the investigation, Stephen said: “I welcome the NAO’s decision to investigate the Toeic scandal on behalf of parliament. I hope we might finally find out why so many innocent students have been treated so disgracefully.”

Stephen urges Government action on TOEIC victims

Earlier on today, Stephen appeared on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme amidst mounting pressure on the Government over their treatment of English Language students.

The Home Office have accused 33,000 people of cheating in English Language 'TOEIC' tests - a figure that Stephen believes to be grossly inflated.

Appearing alongside two such students - Fatema Choudhury and Wahid Rahman - Stephen urged the government to allow students to resit the test and prove their innocence: "I think that the treatment of these students has been a disgrace. They trusted Britain to provide them with a decent education, instead they have been falsely accused of cheating. They have been given no chance to appeal, their visas have been cancelled and they have been left in limbo for years. I think what should happen now is that the Home Office should allow the students to take a reliable English test".

Home Secretary Savid Javid is expected to announce a decision on the TOEIC students in the coming days.

Stephen pressed Home Secretary on TOEIC

Yesterday, Stephen asked the Home Secretary for an update on the position of overseas students who have sat TOEIC English Language tests.

Following a Panorama report in 2014 exposing some instances of cheating, the Government issued a blanket response to all those students who had sat the TOEIC tests - taking steps to suspend them from their degree courses and remove them from the country. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that he had held meetings about this matter last week and would be in touch with Stephen shortly.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: “The Government's approach towards these students has been extremely severe. All have been deemed guilty of cheating based on scant evidence and those who protest their innocence have never been allowed the opportunity to resit the test.

“The Secretary of State has assured me on several occasions that he is taking this matter seriously and from his answer today it looks as if new decisions may have been made. I very much hope to hear from the Home Secretary without delay; and I hope too that measures have been taken to end the years of hardship endured by those students falsely accused of cheating on their English Language tests.”

Stephen tables EDM on TOEIC


Last week, Stephen tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the government to allow over 35,000 students the chance of re-taking the Test of English International Communication. Many of the students had their visas curtailed having been accused by the Home Office of cheating when sitting the original test.

The EDM comes ahead of the planned launch of an All Party Parliamentary Group to look into the actions taken by the government and how they have affected the lives of the students. The APPG will aim to take testimony from students as well as from legal professionals and mental health practitioners, and will produce a report that will include recommendations for changes in Government policy.

The decision taken in 2014 by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to revoke or deny the visas of 35,870 students has been seen by many across the legal and political professions to be an overreaction. In 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee was highly critical of the actions taken by May’s department in the TOEIC case, saying that the scandal “raises serious questions about the conduct of the Home Office”.

Having tabled the EDM, Stephen said: “I hope this motion can help persuade the Government to re-think its handling of this issue. The treatment of these students has been appalling.

“Supporters of our campaign should ask their local MP to sign EDM 2061. The more MPs who sign, the stronger our case for students affected to sit another test in the UK, and to be permitted to complete their studies.”

Migrant Voice’s Executive Director Nazek Ramadan, added: “This is the next step in the campaign to get justice for the students. I encourage all MP’s to sign this EDM. I hope the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister take note of the awful situation they have put the students in and take action immediately.”