East Ham MP backs student’s visa victory after fraud claims
PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 January 2017
An overseas student says his future studies in the UK are uncertain – despite winning a legal battle against the Home Office.
East Ham resident Mohammad Mohibullah won a landmark tribunal case against the government last month after it revoked his student visa.
He was one of thousands of students whose right to stay in the UK was cancelled after cases of fraud were uncovered at two language test centres in 2014.
The 28-year-old, who is originally from Bangladesh, had his decision quashed by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
However, he claims he has been granted limited time from the Home Office to find a university course and raise £25,000 to cover the overseas funding for an MA qualification.
Mohammad Mohibullah has described his case as “really disappointing” and claims the last two years have caused problems for him and his family, and put his life on hold.
“You cannot study in any other country,” he said. “I had to clear my name of this crime.”
The University of Greenwich student’s problems began after his visa was due to expire and he sat an exam called the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).
Until 2014, foreign students could use a TOEIC pass to show their level of English was sufficient in order to gain a visa.
Mr Mohibullah says his test was recorded on April 18, 2012 but this was later disputed after a proxy voice was found on his test in his name the day before.
This only came to light in 2014 after a BBC Panorama documentary exposed cheating at two centres, one of which was Mr Mohibullah’s.
He was subsequently taken off his course and told to leave the country.
“I wasn’t able to finish my degree,” he said. “I was told I had used a proxy for the exam.”
Mr Mohibullah, who has always denied cheating, says he and many others were falsely implicated.
He said: “They hadn’t provided any evidence that I had cheated, they curtailed my visa, I wasn’t able to do anything in the UK.”
After seeking legal advice, he took his case to HM Courts and Tribunals Service and won.
The National Union of Students (NUS) union has said that lessons must be learned from the student visas scandal.
Mostafa Rajaai, NUS International Students Officer, said: “It is completely unacceptable that Mr Mohibullah, and so many others like him, have had their lives destroyed and put on hold for over two years, yet after winning his case in court, he has to comply with ludicrous demands of the Home Office which are unachievable.”
This is because he has been unable to work for the last two years and is still waiting for his degree to be awarded after it was suspended.
“That is why I am not totally happy with the judgement,” he told the Recorder.
A Home Office spokeswoman denied his allegation but did not wish to comment.
East Ham MP Stephen Timms has backed Mr Mohibullah and called the government’s handling of its crackdown on student visa fraud “disgraceful”.
He has accused the government of “stabbing in the back” foreign students who have had their visas unfairly cancelled.
The East Ham MP says up to 40 of his constituents may be among thousands of overseas students whose right to stay in the UK was revoked.
However, the decision of an immigration tribunal in Mohammad Mohibullah’s case means more of Mr Timms’ constituents could fight to have their visas reinstated.
He said: “Many are still here but do not have leave to remain so they have been depending on support from friends or family while all of this hopefully gets resolved.
“It is an absolutely disgraceful way for the British government to treat people who have put their faith in our education system.”
Fake candidates were allegedly paid for taking written and oral exams on behalf of others.
These lay undetected after being sent for marking to a company called Educational Testing Service Limited (ETS).
Theresa May, then Home Secretary, vowed to clamp down on the numbers of “bogus students” sitting the tests.
More than 33,000 were said to be invalid and a further 22,000 “questionable” – up to 5,000 people were deported or left the UK, while others were held in detention centres as a result.
Mr Mohibullah successfully appealed his decision as the Home Office cancelled his right to stay in the UK without offering him a chance to appeal.
The resulting report by the immigration tribunal stated the Secretary of State’s decision was “an abuse of power”.
Speaking about affected students in East Ham, Mr Timms said that “one or two of them can speak English better than me”.
He said he hoped “it won’t be too long for their visas to be reinstated so they can get back to their studies”.
A spokesman for the Home Office said its investigation had “revealed extremely serious, large-scale, organised fraud”.
He said: “Where we suspect or have evidence of sponsorship abuse or failings we will investigate to establish whether or not an institution is fulfilling its responsibilities as a licence holder.
“In the case of Mr Mohibullah, the court did not find that the Home Office was wrong to conclude he had used deception but rather that it had chosen an unsuitable legal mechanism for implementing the decision to curtail the leave.”
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