Scotland

Bid to clear names over visa test cheat claims

Nidhin Chand
Image caption Nidhin Chand denies using a stand-in to sit an English language test for her visa application

An Indian woman living in Scotland has spoken of her fight to clear her name over fraud allegations on a scandal-hit English language testing programme.

Nidhin Chand was accused of using a stand-in to sit an English language test for her visa application.

The Home Office cancelled 36,000 student visas after cheating and fraud was uncovered at test centres.

It said the study visa system has since been reformed and "these reforms are working".

The scandal came to light as a result of a BBC documentary that looked at centres administering the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

Image caption Nidhin Chand is engaged to Linlithgow SNP MP Martyn Day

Ms Chand - who is engaged to Linlithgow SNP MP Martyn Day - tutored English in Kerala, south India, before completing a master's degree in the UK.

The 41-year-old told BBC Scotland's The Nine: "They say I have used a proxy. I have told everyone I haven't used a proxy.

"I said, 'Please talk to me and then you will realise whether I have to use a proxy or not, tell me whether you can understand my English…'."

Due to her spouse visa, Ms Chand is no longer at risk of being removed from the UK. However, she said she is desperate to correct her record.

She continued: "I have been crying every day… It is painful when someone calls you a fraud and arrests you in front of the public and humiliates you.

"When they took me to the police station they said, 'It is about UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) and [the Home Office] has taken a decision, you are illegal, you have done something wrong, there are deception charges'.

"I haven't deceived anyone."

Systematic cheating and fraud uncovered

In 2014, an investigation by BBC Panorama revealed systematic cheating and fraud on TOEIC exams at test centres in England.

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Media captionUndercover footage filmed by Panorama uncovered systematic fraud in the student visa system

As a result, the Home Office ordered the US firm providing the exams, Educational Testing Service (ETS), to check over 58,000 tests taken between 2011 and 2014.

Voice-recognition software suggested proxy test takers were used in more than 30,000 cases. More than a thousand people were removed from the country as a result of the investigation.


Mosiur's story: 'We could not move forward with our lives'

Image caption Mosiur Rahman told the BBC he suffers from depression as a result of his ordeal

Mosiur Rahman, 30, arrived in the UK from Bangladesh to study 10 years ago and has degrees from three British universities, including the University of the West of Scotland.

His application to extend his visa in 2015 was refused after he was accused of using a proxy test taker in his TOEIC exam three years earlier.

The 30-year-old - who lives in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, with his wife and young daughter - was ordered to leave the country.

Mr Rahman is in the process of appealing over claims the decision was based on wrong information.

'Black mark' of deception

He claimed the Home Office stated that he sat the test at the New College of Finance while ETS stated he had taken the test at the now-closed London School of Management and Development Studies (LSMDS).

Mr Rahman said his family has spent more than £100,000 on his education in the UK.

But the "black mark" of deception, he said, means he cannot continue with his plan to complete a PhD in New Zealand or Australia.

He added: "We could not move forward with our lives. We are stuck in some sort of open jail in the UK.

"I cannot go back home, I cannot move in the country, I cannot start my professional life even after I have three UK university degrees.

"I now suffer mental health depression and have been on medication for a very long time."


Image caption Martyn Day is urging the Home Office to re-examine the issue

Campaigners have questioned the evidence and claim innocent people have been accused of wrongdoing as part of a 'hostile environment' policy.

"Clearly the numbers involved are just ridiculous," said Ms Chand's fiancé Martyn Day.

"In some test centres, every single person going through is deemed to have cheated. That can't be the case, logic tells us that."

The MP has joined a cross-party group led by Labour MP Stephen Timms urging the Home Office to re-examine the issue.

Foreign students arrived in 'good faith'

Nazek Ramadan, of Migrant Voice, said foreign students arrived in the UK to study in "good faith".

She added: "One decision led to tens of thousands of students having their future destroyed.

"They come from good families, from many countries around the world.

"They came here for the best experience in the world, for the best education, only to end up with this nightmare.

"Most of the students didn't have access to their records anyway so there was no chance for them to actually check their records and prove they didn't cheat.

"Those who managed to get evidence through the courts then discovered that [the individual in the case] wasn't them. It was someone else…

"We discovered it was all over the place."

On Monday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid told parliament that he was taking the issue of TOEIC cancellations "seriously" and that he would reveal his decision on the matter "shortly".

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The investigations in 2014 into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud.

"The scale of this is shown by the fact that 25 people who facilitated this fraud have received criminal convictions, including four individuals convicted yesterday of conspiracy to commit fraud.

"Since then, the Home Office has reformed the study visa system to tackle abuse and the evidence clearly shows these reforms are working. Published Home Office data for 2017/18 showed that over 97% of Tier 4 students who did not switch into another immigration category left the UK in compliance with their visa conditions."

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