The Home Office of Britain may have wrongly accused thousands of foreign students of cheating in English language tests to qualify for visas, reported local media Wednesday.
Critics said up to 20 percent of 33,725 students, alleged to have cheated in language tests, may not have been guilty.
The news, first highlighted by the Financial Times, said it began in 2014 when a BBC Panorama investigation made allegations of cheating in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), which students must take to meet visa requirements for spoken language proficiency.
Theresa May, home secretary at the time, asked the Educational Testing Services (ETS) to analyze voice files taken during the tests to check whether students had cheated. The investigation results suggested that 33,725 tests involved of use of a proxy and 22,694 more were "questionable". The Home Office then revoked almost 40,000 visas by the end of 2016.
Due to the Home Office move, students were barred from their courses and told they could only appeal once they had left Britain and returned to their home countries.
However, a 2016 immigration appeal tribunal heard that when ETS' voice analysis was checked with a human follow-up, the computer had been correct in only 80 percent of cases, meaning that up to 7,000 visas had been revoked in error.
Patrick Lewis, an immigration lawyer, said the quality of the ETS analysis was suspect and he believes there were innocent individuals had been caught up in what was undoubtedly widespread fraud.
The lawyer described the treatment to the foreign students as another example of the government's "hostile environment" immigration policy.
Stephen Timms, a Labour MP, has called on the newly appointed Home Secretary Sajid Javid to give the issue careful consideration.
Timms said: "It is very clearly an aspect of the hostile environment. The whole thing strikes me as completely scandalous. They say their lives have been ruined by this. Their families invested quite often their life savings to provide a decent British education at a good university for their child."
"A lot of them feel they can't go back to India or Bangladesh because of the shame attached to this. They've been accused of cheating by the British government," he added.
A Home Office statement defended the department's earlier actions. It reads: "In February 2014, investigations into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating, which was indicative of large-scale, organized fraud. The government took immediate robust action on this, which has been measured and proportionate, and so far 21 people have received criminal convictions for their role in this deception."