35,000 international students wrongly stripped of visa

16 February 2024

One decade after an IT error led to a Home Office decision of mass student visa termination, thousands of people are fighting for justice.

It has been an entire decade since around 35,000 migrant student visas were terminated overnight following an arbitrary IT error that resulted in mass cheating allegations. After a 2014 BBC Panorama pointed at "widespread cheating in Home Office-approved test centres", the then-Home Secretary Theresa May ordered an investigation that "suggested that 97% of all tests taken between 2011 and 2014 were suspicious". Tens of thousands of students were wrongly accused of cheating on their English language tests, leading to the deportation of 2,400 students after dawn raids in student accommodation. Those who remained in the UK were forced into destitution. 7,200 further students left the UK following threats of arrest and detention. Since this widespread injustice, multiple court cases have exposed these investigations as faulty, arguing that evidence was 'largely absent', or at least 'deeply flawed'. 

The students impacted lost their right to appeal in the UK, with no legal avenue to clear their name of fraud. However, ten years on, Migrant Voice has been working with the students through their #MyFutureBack campaign. Many students have won their cases to clear their names, although even more remain in limbo. As well as the erasure of rights and freedoms, and the stigma of such charges, “many have been disowned by their families, who simply can’t believe the UK government would treat an innocent person this way”. Migrant Voice’s campaign has however made significant progress in influencing “countless legal cases”, having “pushed the issue onto the Home Office agenda”, and raising public awareness. The clear parallels between this and the Mr Bates vs the Post Office television show have encouraged affected students to develop a pitch for a television drama exposing their own experiences.

Why were visas revoked and students deported overnight? How did an investigation ordered by the Home Secretary get things so deeply wrong? Why have tens of thousands of students been unable to reach justice for over a decade? There were signs of redress when Sajid Javid planned a review process for the students before this was undermined by an impending government reshuffle. As Stephen Timms MP has stated, “these are young people who entrusted their future to Britain and, in reality, Britain…has wrecked their lives. All of them have had the start of their careers blighted for years. And many of them will never ever fully recover”.

Positive Action in Housing commends and supports Migrant Voice’s ongoing #MyFutureBack campaign and looks towards redress, compensation and justice for these tens of thousands affected. 


Phoebe (Advocacy Volunteer), and Iona Taylor (Advocacy and Campaigns Lead)

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