International students sue UK Home Office over cheating allegations, visa cancellations

The students were seeking compensation for unlawful detention and loss of earnings after the Home Office canceled their visas.

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A group of international students in the United Kingdom have sued the UK Home Office over an accusation of cheating in the English Language tests.

The students were seeking compensation for unlawful detention and loss of earnings after the Home Office canceled their visas.

According to the Economic Times, the UK government has made payments in at least two cases, but lawyers have expressed frustration at the department’s refusal to agree to a standard settlement scheme for wrongly accused students, which they believe would accelerate the process of securing justice.

The law firm Bindmans is representing 23 students who have already won immigration appeals, and overturned the Home Office’s decision to cancel their visas amid cheating allegations, and is pushing for the department to treat this as a group action.

Clients are seeking compensation for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, loss of earnings (during the period their contested immigration status meant they were prohibited from working) and damage to their mental health.

Attempts to secure compensation come 10 years after the Home Office took steps to cancel the visas of about 35,000 international students, after a BBC documentary revealed evidence of cheating in some English language test centres.

Although cheating happened in some Home Office approved test centres, thousands of students have spent years protesting that they were wrongly affected by the department’s decision to classify 97% of those who took the test as possible cheats.

Some of the firm’s clients were not initially told that they had been accused of cheating but were detained by immigration enforcement officers during dawn raids, with no clear indication of what had prompted the arrest, Alice Hardy, a partner at Bindmans, said.

“Our clients have been through hell. The Home Office deliberately concealed from them the fact that they had been accused of cheating, denying them the opportunity to defend themselves, and instead removed their immigration status with no in-country right of appeal. They lost everything as a result; homes, livelihoods, the right to work, study and pay rent. They suffered the shame and rejection of their families, relationship breakdowns, destitution and the torment of seeing everything they had worked for taken away from them,” Hardy said.

“These situations persisted for up to 10 years and caused untold suffering. It is now apparent that the allegations were based on thin evidence.”

The firm issued the 23 claims between October 2020 and March 2022 but only one case has settled. Lawyers had hoped to persuade the department to develop a scheme, based on the model of the Windrush compensation scheme, that would set out clear categories under which damages could be paid, which they hoped would speed up the process. The Home Office has rejected the lawyers’ proposal, Bindmans said.

“It is open to the Home Office to repair some of the damage done by apologising to our clients and agreeing a sensible, efficient settlement scheme to enable them to move on with their lives. It is deeply disappointing that they are declining to do that,” Hardy said.

At least one student represented by a different law firm has received compensation after an allegation of cheating in the test. Mohammad Bhuiyan received about £13,500 in compensation in 2021 from the Home Office for wrongful detention after being held in immigration detention for 47 days after an accusation of cheating in an English language test.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The 2014 investigation into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud. Courts have consistently found the evidence was sufficient to take the action we did.”