Hundreds? Thousands? 48,000? Up to 50,000?
It’s not clear.
And we will probably have to wait for Parliament to investigate before we know the answer.
In recent days, The Independent has reported that up to 50,000 students were wrongfully deported from the UK after being accused of cheating in their English language tests. The evidence relied on by the Home Office was decimated by a recent decision by the Upper Tribunal (still yet to be published…).
The Independent attributes its ‘up to 50k’ figure to The Hindu news website. Neither journalist has provided any source for their figures. While the Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, is on the record as saying that around 46,000 suspected cheaters were found by the Home Office, clearly that is not the same as saying that 46,000 students have been deported since 2014.
Let’s think about the numbers for a moment. By my calculations, at the lowest end of the higher estimates, that’s roughly 56 removals per day. It is hard to imagine the Home Office successfully removing so many people so quickly, particularly when independent reports suggest that 4 out of 10 deportations are cancelled, mainly due to lack of staff (read: bureaucratic incompetence) and legal challenges.
So for now, it’s safer treat these figures with a pinch of salt.
A quick scan of the Tribunal cases shows that:
- By May 2015, the Tribunal was aware of around 192 ETS cases at various stages in the system. Statistics from the Home Office suggested that it had taken decisions in 19,700 cases. 
- On 2 October 2015, the Secretary of State told the Tribunal that the total number of ETS judicial review cases had risen to 2,539. 
These numbers, which vary considerably, are probably not the full picture and fall short of assessing the number of students removed, but they may give a rough indication of the true scale of the problem, quite apart from the recent headlines.
What we know for sure is that this scandal has affected thousands of students and their dependants in a multitude of messy ways. They have been accused of deception and had their leave cancelled. Some have been detained, then either released or removed. All have lived with the pain and anxiety of being told they can no longer stay in the UK and must leave. Many have been denied effective access to the justice system. Putting numbers on the debris is a difficult and probably impossible task. In the Tribunal’s own words in Gazi:
The numbers are, on any showing, of enormous dimensions
Quite naturally, some have called for Theresa May’s resignation. Yet it will probably be some time before we know a bit more about the scale of the damage done and a more credible challenge to the tenure of the Home Secretary can be made.
 See §§ 39 to 40 and 46 of R (Gazi) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (ETS – judicial review) IJR  UKUT 00327 (IAC).
 See § 4 of R (on the application of Khan and Others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (common costs) IJR  UKUT 00684 (IAC).
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