Five years ago, ministers were set to offer respite to thousands of international students who may have been wrongly accused of cheating, but that plan was derailed by a government reshuffle, the Guardian.
Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid had called on authorities to design a system where students who believed their visas had been canceled in error following unfair cheating allegations could apply for a one-off internal review of their cases, sources revealed.
Authorities had found a possible solution for those wrongly caught by the Home Office's decision to grant blanket visa cancellation to 35,000 students. However, they had to wait for approval from Downing Street in July 2019, when Theresa May was replaced by Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Javid was replaced by Priti Patel as Home Secretary, and the proposals were shelved.
Details of how the government moved closer to resolving the simmering immigration scandal have emerged as students continue to attempt to whitewash their reputations, a decade after tens of thousands were barred from their classes.
In 2014, a BBC documentary revealed widespread cheating at testing centers offering the language tests that international students had to take to renew their visas. Following these allegations, the Home Office revoked the visas of around 35,000 students and told them they were not allowed to continue their studies in the UK, meaning they had wasted thousands of pounds on tuition fees; 2,500 students were expelled and 7,200 left the country after being warned they risked arrest and detention if they stayed.
Many have spent the last decade trying to get immigration courts to consider the Home Office's cancellation of their visas so they can return to study in the UK. The process is very long and expensive, but at least 3,700 people have won their appeals.
In 2019, Philip Rutnam, then permanent secretary at the ministry, told MPs that officials were aware that people “could have been treated harshly during this whole process”, adding that the existence of individuals “who continue to protest of their innocence is a matter of concern.” that really concerns us.”
In a written statement on July 23, 2019, Javid told MPs he knew some students had been unfairly accused.
“There remain concerns that some people who did not cheat may have been caught and I am aware that some people have had difficulty contesting the charges against them,” he wrote, adding that he was studying the possibility of making this possible. so “that those who feel wronged can request a review of their case. We intend to make further announcements on this matter and will inform the House in due course.
Javid planned to introduce a rapid internal administrative review process so that people who believe they have been treated unfairly can ask the Home Office to review their case. This would have been an alternative to attempting a costly appeal in immigration court.
The next day, before he could make any further announcements, the May administration was replaced by a new government and the new Prime Minister appointed Javid to the new role of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Home Office officials knew it would be complex and expensive to introduce an internal administrative review, but they had been instructed by Javid to find a way to make it work.
“The process was almost introduced when there was a sympathetic interior minister, but then there was a change of government with different priorities. No one was really keen on the idea,” a source said.
East Ham Labor MP Stephen Timms, who has campaigned on the issue since 2015, described it as “catastrophic” that the initiative was never implemented.
“If a mechanism had been put in place, the students would have had the opportunity to put their lives back on track after five years of total misery. Instead, they experienced 10 years of total misery and many of them are still waiting to be exonerated,” he said.
Shana Shaikh arrived in the UK in 2011 from India to study an MBA and was accused by the Home Office in 2016 of cheating in an English test. Her visa was canceled and she was unable to complete her studies; she is still fighting to clear her name. She was upset to learn that the Home Office had abandoned a possible solution. “It’s really heartbreaking to hear that we were so close. It's as if politicians don't value our lives. We cannot get this lost time back. It’s been a nightmare for all of us,” she said.
Priti Patel has been contacted for comment.