TOEIC, TOEFL axed as route to U.K. visa

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

Two of the most popular English-language proficiency tests in Japan can no longer be used to obtain student visas to Britain after a British TV program exposed fraud in the test-taking process.

The visa ban applies to the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), said Educational Testing Service, the U.S.-based company that runs the tests, last week.

The fraud, uncovered by “BBC Panorama,” a BBC program, was limited to the TOEIC, but since both the TOEFL and TOEIC tests share the SELT license regime, neither test will be used in the future, ETS said.

This means Japanese planning to study in Britain will have to take lesser known tests to obtain a visa.

ETS, a nonprofit organization, enforces and manages the two tests. It said in a statement released April 17 that it decided not to renew Britain’s Secure English-Language Testing (SELT) license. The SELT license can be used to prove English ability — one of the requirements for getting a visa to enter the U.K.

TOEIC’s Japanese operator, The Institute for International Business Communication, sent out an email April 18 to warn examinees who were supposed to take the test on April 20.

The TOEFL operator, the Council on International Education Exchange, said on its website that it regretted the decision.

The BBC program in February reported that organized crime in England was trying to circumvent the U.K.’s visa-granting process by using bogus exam takers and test proctors who were reading the answers to the test out loud, ETS said.

Beo, a company that helps Japanese who plan to study in England enter the country, said this may affect Japanese students as early as this autumn.

“We have received some phone calls from people who were worried, because they have already been accepted to U.K. universities, and were about to apply for student visas,” said Junko Aoyagi, assistant director of Beo.

“They were accepted by U.K. universities under the condition that they hand in proof of their English proficiency level, and they were about to take tests such as TOEIC and TOEFL,” she said.

Now that the two tests cannot be used for this purpose, the agency advises people to instead take alternative tests, such as IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and the Pearson Test of English Academic.

However, since these tests are not so well-known compared with the TOEIC and TOEFL, Aoyagi said some people may not be able to meet the U.K. university application deadline, and “may have to give up studying at a U.K. university starting this fall.”

The Institute for International Business Communication plans to refund the examination fees of those who took the TOEIC.

According to statistics by the Japan Student Services Organization, which offers support programs for Japanese students who study overseas, there were more than 3,000 Japanese who went to study in the U.K. in fiscal 2012.

  • JoeyJapan

    Well, I didn’t see the BBC piece but based on this article, it’s not the fault of TOEIC or TOEFL but the problem with organized crime. They’ll still infiltrate those other tests if it meets their obvious goal of circumventing VISA entry. Sad that the students have to suffer for it.

  • Al_Martinez

    Seems like they’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Why don’t they just allow the results from trusted testing sites? I wonder if there is some ulterior motive here: the British want a British company to make money on testing.

    • Ray Hamel

      Or, why not just have a video camera posted in every testing site, and put the videos of the tests online?

  • Guest

    why the heck shouls asians come to us or britian to study when now they have their own universities,,,way better than ours. its only a matter of time. in next 10 years west will seek the visa of the east…so relax.

  • Joe

    why the heck do asians come to US or Britian to study when now they have their own universities, some way better than ours. It’s only a matter of time. In next 10 years’ time West will seek students’ visa of the east…so relax.

  • David Lee

    About time. TOEIC and TOEFL are useless as tests of English competency. IELTS, while not perfect, is a far better measure of a candidate’s ability to actually use the language.