The Home Office has suspended English language tests run by a major firm after BBC Panorama uncovered systematic fraud in the student visa system.

Secret filming of government-approved exams needed for a visa shows candidates having tests faked for them.

ETS, which sets the exams but does not appoint the invigilators, told Panorama it “does everything it can to detect and prevent” cheating.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the BBC’s evidence was “very shocking”.

Panorama saw candidates for tests set by ETS, one of the largest language testing firms in the world, being replaced by “fake sitters” and having answers read out to them.

Each year, around 100,000 non-EU students get their visas to stay in the UK extended.

The programme sent non-EU students – who were already in the UK legally – undercover.

They posed as bogus students with poor English, who wanted to remain in the UK to work illegally.

One went undercover at an immigration consultancy called Studentway Education in Southall, west London.

The BBC was told Studentway could get around compulsory English tests, even if applicants spoke no English.

Director Varinder Bajarh said: “Someone else will sit the exam for you. But you will have to have your photo taken there to prove you were present.”

What Panorama has uncovered is extremely important, it’s very shocking and I want to do something about it” – Home Secretary Theresa May

The researcher was told a “guaranteed pass” would cost £500 – about three times the proper fee for the exam.

After paying, she was sent to sit the exam at Eden College International in east London, a government-approved exam centre.

She was set up on a computer to sit the visa application test, called TOEIC, but never actually took the exam.

Instead, each of the 14 candidates had a “fake sitter” who took the spoken and written tests for them.

All the real candidates had to do was wait to have their photograph taken – as proof they were there.


A week later, the undercover applicant returned to the college to sit another, multiple-choice, exam.

This time she had to take it herself, but the invigilator simply read out all the correct answers.

It took the two dozen or so candidates just seven minutes to complete the two-hour exam.

A few days later, the researcher returned to Studentway and was given a TOEIC certificate, showing she had passed.

She had scored highly in all three tests – getting 100% in her spoken English.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This investigation shows Theresa May is presiding over a failing immigration system which too often focuses on the wrong thing and where illegal immigration is a growing problem.”
Report by :By Richard Watson
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