Good news for universities and international students as Migration Advisory Committee recommends UK retains the Graduate visa

The Migration Advisory Committee have recommended the UK retains the Graduate visa reports Vanessa Ganguin.

image of 3 students
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended retaining the Graduate visa in its current form. The MAC published its findings on the route after the Home Secretary asked for a rapid review as part of measures to reduce legal migration to the UK.The recommendation is great news for the UK higher education sector which depends greatly on its appeal to international students whose fees subsidise the teaching of UK students as well as universities’ viability to teach a variety of courses, plus their ability to carry out scientific and academic research. Hopefully certainty will follow for universities and international students when the government officially responds to the influential committee’s findings.A Graduate visa gives eligible applicants studying in higher education in Britain on a student visa an option to stay and work without the need for sponsorship in the UK for two years (three years for a PhD of other doctoral qualification).A Graduate visa cannot be extended, but those who want to stay and work in the UK may be able to switch to another visa, for example, a Skilled Worker visa if they have an employer willing to sponsor them and pay the appropriate salary threshold.The Home Secretary and some other Conservative colleagues have expressed concerns that work rather than education may have drawn some international students to the UK since 2022 when the Graduate visa extended the time international students have to find work in the UK after graduating.However, to stay in the UK after a two-year Graduate visa most students would have to be sponsored by an employer as a Skilled Worker. Though obviously it is easier to find a suitable job in the UK with some local experience under your belt, completing and passing a degree is a rather long-winded, academically-challenging and expensive option as anyone eligible can be sponsored as a Skilled Worker without having to be in the UK or studying here.

Read related articles

What does the Migration Advisory Committee report say?

The MAC addressed the Home Secretary’s questions about the route being abused. The Committee found no evidence of widespread abuse of the immigration rules. The risks of abuse are low, it found, relatively low due to the limited number of conditions the route imposes.The Mac report found the route brings a net benefit to the public purse. The government’s own analysis shows the visa is set to bring in £12.9 billion of additional tax revenue compared to £6.8 billion of extra fiscal costs between 2021-22 and 2030-31. Since the Graduate route was established, a total of 175,872 visas have been granted.Apart from a higher proportion working as carers, Graduate visa holders switching to Skilled Worker visas tend to enter similar occupations as domestic graduates.The expert report found that the Graduate route is broadly achieving its objectives and supporting the UK government’s  International Education Strategy. It had contributed to ensuring the government’s target of 600,000 international students studying in Britain had been met ahead of time, with a diverse cohort of international students contributing to British universities and research.The attraction to international students had contributed to the government’s policy of “levelling up” left-behind regions outside the capital. “Based on where the expansion of student numbers has occurred and the reliance of regional economies upon universities, a decrease in international student numbers due to the restriction or closure of the Graduate route could disproportionately impact local and regional economies outside London and the South East”, the report warned.The Mac was asked to examine if the graduate route undermines the integrity or quality of British higher education. They found this was not the case.On the contrary, as international student fees make up universities’ financial deficit from teaching domestic students and research, the committee counselled that significant restrictions to the Graduate route “should only be considered once the structural funding issues in the higher education sector have been addressed.”The independent committee which advises the UK Government on immigration policy warned that otherwise: “universities across the nations of the UK will experience further substantial financial difficulty leading to job losses, course closures and a reduction in research, and in the extreme it is not inconceivable that some institutions would fail.”Banning non-research postgraduates from bringing dependants to the UK from January this year, plus uncertainty over the Graduate visa have had a chilling effect on international student applications which British universities rely on financially, the report outlined. It warned that many international students already felt unwelcome.The report acknowledged that Brexit and other policies mean higher education institutions are forced to actively recruit more from abroad to alleviate increased financial pressures. It warned that some international students are exploited by agents and sub-agents mis-selling courses. The MAC recommended that the government should establish a mandatory registration system with quality controls for international recruitment agents and that universities should be more transparent about their use.The other main recommendation for universities was to keep statistics on the level of degree achieved as well as whether international students had successfully completed it – (which is one of the requirements of a Graduate visa application.)

The UK government is asked to make informed immigration policy

Noting that Home Secretary’s letter commissioning the Rapid Review appeared to misunderstand Home Office data, the report also asked that significant immigration policy changes only be made when the government “has a clear plan for how it will collect and monitor data to assess the effectiveness of the route against its objectives and understand wider impacts.”The foreword to the MAC’s report contained its toughest warning yet against making knee-jerk immigration policies without properly exploring the impact to Britain’s economy and important sectors of society.“We repeat the observation that we made in our last Annual Report that the government needs to consider the total impact of a policy change rather than simply its effect on net migration,” wrote the report’s authors, led by committee chair Professor Brian Bell.They added: “As in social care, it is the failure to properly fund the sector that has led to an increasing overreliance on immigration. Universities lose money on teaching domestic students and on research activities, and it is the fee revenue from international students that mitigates (at least in part) the current funding gap for domestic students and research. We have had no indication in our discussion with Ministers, either in Westminster or the Devolved Administrations, that there is any plan in place to address this structural under-funding.“In such circumstances, any policy change to the Graduate route intended to reduce student numbers would need to explain how the financial consequences for the sector would be addressed.”

How will the UK government respond to the MAC’s review of the Graduate visa?

A response from the UK government on the future of this immigration route is expected in the next few days. While some anti-immigration figures on the right of the Conservative party – such as ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick have been agitating against the useful route for international graduates to spend two years working in the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would appear foolhardy to ignore a report that warns of courses and possibly universities closing without the funding that would be lost.The MAC have been about as categorical as they can possibly be in the rapid review that the Home Secretary asked for. The Labour party – likely to form the next government later this year – have said they were waiting to see what the MAC had to say before commenting on what their policy would be. Even if the current government was rash enough to ignore the review it commissioned, one would expect that the Labour party would commit to ensuring the visa remains viable to give the university sector and international students the stability they need.Commenting on the report, Chief Executive of the elite Russell Group of UK universities, Dr Tim Bradshaw said: “The MAC’s thoughtful review is crystal clear: the Graduate Route should be retained in full, finding no evidence of widespread abuse.“International students bring huge value to our university communities, offering global perspectives and important skills, and creating diverse learning environments. As the MAC recognises, they are also critical to the financial sustainability of our world-leading universities. Moreover, the Graduate route plays a crucial role in ensuring the UK is an attractive destination for global talent.“We recognise concerns around the behaviour of some agents and we would support targeted measures to address this. However, the overall message from the MAC is that the Graduate Route is achieving its objectives as set out by the Government. We would therefore urge Ministers to end the uncertainty and confirm as soon as possible that the route will continue in its entirety.”

Join us at our Awards Ceremony and Gala Dinner at Two Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD on 6 June to hear the winners announced and to celebrate our 20th Anniversary.


Read about award-winning global mobility, leadership and education in the upcoming Summer issue of Think Global People magazine, which will reveal the teams and organisations being celebrated in the Relocate Think Global People Awards 2024. Secure your copy here.


Have you heard about our Think Global People community?

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.

Related Articles