Migration Advisory Committee Report Favours Retention of Graduate Visa Route

In a new development, a new report by Home Secretary, James Cleverly has emphasised the importance of maintaining the graduate visa route, further citing its crucial role in funding British universities and its perceived positive impact on the quality of higher education. Responding to concerns raised by James Cleverly, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), conducted an emergency review to assess potential abuse and the underlying motivations behind the visa’s implementation.

The importance of the graduate visa route affirmed

The graduate visa enables international students to remain in the UK for an additional 2 years for level 6 and level 7 students up to three years for level 8 students after the completion of their university studies. This provision extends the same benefits to their respective partners and children to apply as dependents. According to Former Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick’s report, recent debates sparked by a call to abolish the visa, referring to concerns of exploitation in the gig economy, the MAC’s findings have been eagerly anticipated by university and industry stakeholders.

With fears reportedly appearing over potential restrictions or abolishment, industry leaders have expressed relief following the report’s conclusions. Despite earlier worries, the committee composed of five university professors and a Home Office representative, has found “no evidence of widespread abuse” of the graduate route.

The latest report reveals that the risks associated with the graduate visa route are relatively low, largely due to the route’s limited conditions. Moreover, it highlights the route’s positive impact on expanding university course offerings and reducing financial losses from domestic student enrollments and research activities. Notably, the route is seen as a crucial element of the government’s international educational strategy.

Impact of the Graduate Visa Route

According to Robert Jenrick’s report, in 2023, about 114,000 graduate route visas were granted to applicants, with an additional 30,000 visas issued for dependents, The report underscores the significant contribution of students from India, Nigeria, China, and Pakistan, who collectively account for 70% of all graduate visas, with India alone representing over 40% of the total.

Reactions and recommendations

In a recent statement, MAC chair and leading labour economist Professor Brian Bell (Head of Economics at King’s College London) voiced strong support for retaining the graduate visa route in its current form. He emphasised that the route is crucial for upholding the quality and integrity of the UK’s higher education system.

Professor Bell reportedly highlighted the significant role of the graduate route in attracting international students to study in the UK. He noted that the tuition fees paid by these students are essential for universities to cover the financial shortage sustained in educating British students and conducting research. Without the contribution of international students, many universities would face the prospect of downsizing and reducing research activities.

Emphasising the complex interplay between immigration and higher education policies,

Professor Bell points out the importance of maintaining the existing framework of the graduate route.

In response to the report’s findings, a government spokesperson re-emphasised the commitment to attracting top talent to UK universities while ensuring the integrity of the immigration system. The spokesperson indicated that the government is carefully reviewing the report’s recommendations and will provide a comprehensive response in due course.

This development highlights the ongoing debate surrounding immigration policy and its implications for the UK’s higher education sector.

Counterpoints and industry concerns

Mr. Jenrick advocated for the elimination of the graduate route, stating that the UK must swiftly reduce its reliance on foreign students. He labelled the route as a “backdoor” for students to engage in low-wage employment, arguing that it fails to attract top talent to the country.

Moreover, Mr. Jenrick criticised the review’s outcomes, suggesting that they were influenced by the government’s predetermined agenda to meet rational targets set in its International Education Strategy. He likened the review’s findings to a “whitewash,” implying that they lack impartiality.

The British Chambers of Commerce showed concerns about skills shortages, emphasising that businesses struggle to find individuals with the necessary expertise to fill vacancies. Addressing potential loopholes in the system, the Migration Advisory Committee proposed the implementation of a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents.

Additionally, universities would be required to disclose information regarding their recruitment agent expenditures and the number of students recruited through these channels to prevent the route from being exploited.

Demographic shift and career progression

Robert Jenrick’s report revealed that a majority of graduate route beneficiaries had completed postgraduate programmes. There was a notable increase in visas granted to non-Russell Group university graduates, accounting for two-thirds of all graduate visas.

Furthermore, there has been a significant demographic shift, with an increasing proportion of applicants over the age of 25, rising by 15 percentage points since 2021. Despite initial trends towards lower-paid employment, the job prospects and salaries of graduate visa holders have shown improvement over time. Additionally, approximately half of the initial cohort changed to skilled worker visas, securing positions primarily in skilled roles.