Impact of Language Test Fraud on UK Visa Applications: An Ongoing Challenge

Majority of the visa applications to the UK require evidence of a sufficient level of English language (to a varying level of proficiency) on the part of the applicant. Applicants from a majority English speaking county (such as the United States, Canada, Australia etc.)  or with a taught degree in English are exempt from this requirement. Everyone else is required to undertake and pass a Secure English Language Test with an approved licensed test centre.

In 2014 investigation by the BBC uncovered large scale systematic fraud by some of the approved language centres, which allowed applicants to cheat their way through the exams by for example using “fake sitters” or having examiners read out the correct answers during the test. In response, the Home Office moved to investigate the test providers implicated by the BBC using data from the US-based educational testing and assessment organisation, Education Testing Service (ETS), which was one of the organisations licensed to provide the tests by the Home Office at the time. ETS reviewed all the exams taken in the UK between 2011 and 2014 using voice recognition software and declared that 97% of the UK results were either invalid or questionable.

As a result, the Home Office pursued 25 criminal convictions, took more than 35,000 enforcement actions against applicants accused of cheating and revoked licences of 75 colleges and one university.

However, the recent study by National Audit Office found that it was impossible to estimate accurately how many people had been wrongly accused of cheating and unfairly removed from the UK. The researchers found a number of errors in the ETS files and found that the Home Office did not carry out any independent checking or testing of the data ETS provided. The report states that the Home Office in any event did not have the expertise to validate the results and its conclusion that virtually all tests were suspicious was not plausible.

The Home Office is now reviewing the result of the report and should announce if any measures will be taken in this regard.

The UK’s immigration policy is clearly becoming increasingly harsh and this appears to be yet another example of the “hostile environment” policy implemented by the government to reduce the net migration.

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