Migrant Voice: My future’s back: international students fight injustice with legal victories

Migrant Voice’s “My Future Back” campaign has helped three more South Asian students clear their names from Home Office accusations of cheating in an English-language test.

They have been fighting for justice for seven years since the government responded to a TV programme about cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) by suddenly terminating the visas of 34,000 overseas students, making their presence here illegal overnight. A further 22,000 were told that their test results were “questionable”. More than 2,400 students were deported.

In the face of stubborn Home Office refusal to review the evidence behind the mass dismissals, most students had to return home carrying a stigma of guilt. Students who stayed – often because their families couldn’t believe that Britain would take life-ruining action against innocent people – were barred from working, studying, renting accommodation or accessing health care.

When a handful told Migrant Voice of their plight, the organisation started a campaign that included lobbying MPs, initiating newspaper and TV coverage, and public demonstrations.

Migrant Voice director Nazek Ramadan says: “This injustice has turned the lives of tens of thousands of international students upside down. Victims have become estranged from their families, suffered from anxiety and depression, and some have become destitute.

“These individuals cannot get back the years of their lives which were ripped away due to this scandal, but it gives a glimmer of hope to see some finally proving the Home Office wrong in a court of law.

“The government’s shocking blanket action is slowly being shown up, at least for a lucky few who had the time, money, support and persistence to stay and fight, unlike the many others who were forced to give up in the face of government intransigence and power.”

The recently successful trio are:

Wahidur Rahman, a Bangladeshi who was studying for an international business degree when the axe fell. “It was devastating. It was a miserable life, all my rights had been taken away, I was living on the kindness of relatives and family people. They took away the prime time of my life. It will always haunt me,” says Wahidur, now 32. “For nothing I lost seven years of my life.” Initially his family didn’t believe him when he told them the government was acting unjustly and that he was innocent but thanks to press coverage of the scandal generated by Migrant Voice they realised the truth. He was exonerated in June. This September, Wahidur was granted a 2 and a half year visa to stay in the UK. 

Enamul Huq, also from Bangladesh, was studying biomedical sciences. He survived the hard times that followed the government’s decision (“It is terrible, a horrible experience”), and at the lowest point of his struggle he became destitute and slept in a disused, rat-infested shop kitchen. He later became ill with Covid-19. Now 42, he was cleared in May.

Roni Mandal from India describes his seven-year battle as like “being in a prison. I was not allowed to work, travel, study.” His health deteriorated, he couldn’t sleep and was treated for depression. Now 34, his health remains poor. He faced family disapproval, “especially my dad. [He was] kind of broken. I explained, ‘No, I did not cheat’”, but to no avail. Only when he won his case in April 2021 was his father’s belief in him finally restored. In August Roni was granted a 30-month visa. 

Most of the wronged students remain victims of this scandalous travesty of justice. Some of those who were deported, or returned home to try to rebuild their catastrophically disrupted lives, tried to bring cases from their own countries. But they were stymied by video and other technical, administrative and financial difficulties.

Wahidur, Enamul and Roni have been through hell, and survived.

But even in victory their struggle is not over.

After 11 years without seeing his family, Roni is planning a reunion in India in October: “I cannot explain how excited I am to see them, especially my mum and dad.” He has enrolled on an online IT course and hopes – hopes – to start his studies again.

Wahidur hopes – hopes – to resume his studies as soon as possible, but has to apply to enrol on a master’s programme and find the money for fees. The fees he paid for the course from which he was ejected are lost. So are his legal fees. He will receive no financial compensation for his ordeal, though that’s an issue he may consider later.

Enamul Huq is anxiously waiting to see if – if – he will receive a six-month or 30-month visa from the Home Office. He then hopes – hopes – to return to his studies.

They have won. But there are health problems that may linger for years. The raw emotional holes left by missing family births, deaths and marriages. No automatic resumption of university courses. The total destruction of what might have been the best years of their lives. No compensation. No apology.