• Rebekah Clark

A Home Office immigration scandal fuelled by irresponsible journalism?

The English Language Test Cheating Scandal shows that immigration needs to be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.


The latest Home Office Scandal, one that for many has flown under their radar, is that of the English Test Centre (ETC) cheating scandal. In 2014, the Home Office was given evidence that two test centres which provide English language tests for UK student visas in London, were using proxies to take the tests. Newsnight conducted an investigation into the ETC’s nationwide and found evidence that this method of cheating had been taking place all over the UK for up to two years prior to the investigation. The arbitrary statistic that has been provided in media reports is that around 97% of 58,000 tests were deemed as being ‘suspicious’ (BBC, 2022). The Home Office aimed to tackle this by deporting and detaining the students that were deemed to be cheating through their hostile immigration initiative.


However, the evidence that was given to the Home Office was not watertight, with there being significant concerns about the data collection methods as well as flaws within the data, which the Home Office was aware of. Despite this, the Home Office chose to ignore these concerns and use this corrupt evidence to deport individuals named in the data. More than 25,000 individuals have been deported and 7,200 forced to leave as a result of this data (BBC, 2022). Through such hostile actions and unethical behaviour, the Home Office has in fact deported thousands of students who were wrongly accused by the evidence and caught in the crossfire of this scandal, pushing them into a state of social exile and forcing them to fight extensive legal battles to clear their names. Alarmingly, the Home Office continues to employ this flawed data to deport migrants and contest immigration appeals.


Whilst there is no doubt that ETC’s should not have been using proxies to take the English Language Test, the more concerning outcome of this scandal is the blatant migratory prejudice shown by the Home Office in continuing to use flawed data, to deport students. These individuals have been targeted singularly through their immigration status, being seen as untrustworthy and disposable to British society, drawing significant parallels to the hostile treatment that those of the Windrush generation have been treated with. These people have been socially and culturally shamed not only within the UK but also within their families and social networks, with their lives being put on hold. They have been unable to work, access social welfare, or education. They have instead been stuck in a state of limbo where they are waiting for the Home Office to either drop the charges against them, or for them to win their legal battles. One innocent individual was detained for 125 days, and was only told why he had been detained after he had arrived at a detention centre.


This kind of scandal and targeted behaviour on behalf of the Home Office is exactly why we advocate that Immigration Status is added as a protected characteristic within the Equality Act. So many immigrants are denied the rights that they should be afforded singularly due to the fact that immigration status does not equate to nationality, and the discrimination that they experience is not soley founded in racial discrimination. They are reminded on a daily basis of the precarity that their status as a migrant affords them through screenings of their immigration status. In this situation, individuals that were innocent have been expelled as they are migrants, without being given the opportunity to prove their innocence. It calls into question whether the Government would treat the flawed data with such certainty if the affected cohort were British individuals that were inflicted. Protecting immigration status under the Equality Act, would limit the extent of systematic abuse that migrants are subject to at the hands of the British Government, and their hostile agenda.


Finally, this scandal speaks to the importance of responsible journalism. Whilst it was a Newsnight investigation that brought the ‘scandal’ to light for the Home Office, they have also conducted an investigation into the Home Office’s deportations without recognising the part that they have played in instigating this situation. There is an argument that Newsnight does not have the same level of power as the Home Office, however they could have included gaining test data in their initial investigation to prevent this level of data flaw passing through undetected. Newsnight could have encouraged the Home Office to do more thorough checks prior to detaining and deportation, by showing that some migrant students were innocent. This further brings into question what responsible journalism looks like in contemporary society, when one slight error can put tens of thousands of lives at risk.


In this case, the infringement of innocent people’s rights has been fuelled by irresponsible journalism on Newsnight’s part. In a climate of anti-immigrant sentiment and a hostile environment that this current government aligns with, we believe it is of absolute importance that an ethics check is conducted by journalists when reporting on stories relating to migration. They ought to ask questions such as “will this report place migrants in danger or risk their lives”, “will this report make migrants more vulnerable?”, “will this report increase risk to the health and wellbeing of migrants?”. We believe equality and ethics go hand in hand.



Sources:

BBC (2022) ‘The English test that ruined thousands of lives’. Available at:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60264106


The Guardian (2022) ‘English Test Scandal: Home Office accused of shocking miscarriage of justice’. Available at:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/feb/09/english-test-scandal-home-office-accused-of-shocking-miscarriage-of-justice

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