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MAC report into the UK graduate route say

Latest News: Migration Advisory Committee Published Recommendations for the Graduate Visa Route

May 20, 2024
Last Updated on May 22, 2024

On 14th May 2024, the Migration Advisory Committee published a ‘rapid review’ report into the Graduate visa scheme. The report entitled, ‘Rapid Review of the Graduate Route’, was commissioned by Home Secretary James Cleverly on 11th March 2024.

Why did the Home Secretary commission the report?

James Cleverly wrote to Professor Brian Bell, Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), on 11th March 2024 to commission a report into whether the Graduate visa is meeting its wider objectives. The objectives of the scheme are to:

  1. Enhance the offer to international students who are considering studying in the UK to ensure the UK remains internationally competitive;
  2. Enable retention of talent, enabling employers to recruit skilled graduates, who in turn contribute to the UK economy; and,
  3. Support the UK government in achieving its ambition (as set out in the International Education Strategy) to increase the number of international students in higher education and increase the value of education exports.

The commissioning letter also confirms the government’s objective to attract “the brightest and best” to the UK, in accordance with the International Education Strategy.

Mr Cleverly requested an assessment of whether the scheme is being abused and whether “the demand for study visas is not being driven more by a desire for immigration rather than education”. He cited data from the MAC annual report, which highlighted that the proportion of international students attending “lower tariff institutions” rose to 32% in 2021/22 and institutions with the lowest UCAS tariff quartiles by over 250% between 2018 and 2022.

The letter states, “An international student can spend relatively little on fees for a one-year course and gain access to two years with no job requirement on the Graduate route, followed by four years access to a discounted salary threshold on the Skilled Worker route”. The letter also refers to initial data, which suggests that only 23% of students switching from the Graduate route to the Skilled Worker route in 2023 went into graduate-level jobs.

What did the MAC find?

On the question of who uses the Graduate visa, the MAC found that there has been a large increase in the number of Graduate visas granted since it was first introduced in 2021. In 2023, 114,000 graduate visas were issued, in addition to around 30,000 dependent visas. Nationals of India, Nigeria, China and Pakistan account for 70% of all Graduate visas being granted, with India making up over 40% alone. They also found that:

  • 91% of those on the Graduate route had previously completed a postgraduate level course and
  • Most of the growth since the graduate route’s introduction has come from non-Russell Group universities’ postgraduate courses, which account for 66% of all main applicant graduate visas.

Regarding the question of what do migrants do on the Graduate route, the report found that:

  • The majority of Graduate visa holders are in work
  • For those graduates who work while on the route, the majority secure employment promptly and work for most of their first year.
  • Graduate visa holders who are working earn a similar amount to domestic graduates, and their earnings typically increase with time on the route.
  • Graduate visa holders who switched to the skilled worker route typically work in occupations similar to those of domestic graduates.

On the question of whether there is evidence of abuse of the Graduate route, the MAC found that “evidence from UKVI, alongside insights gathered through our roundtables, indicates that levels of abuse on the Graduate route are very low”.

In terms of the impact of the Graduate visa, the MAC made the key point that the availability of a post-study work option is an important factor for international students when deciding where to study. As their analysis confirmed, the number of international students in the UK grew significantly when the Graduate route was introduced. The report also makes the following points:

  • Given the decrease in the real value of domestic tuition fees and teaching grants for universities across the UK nations in recent years, they are becoming increasingly reliant on international student fee income to cross-subsidise the teaching of domestic students and research.
  • The recent restrictions on student dependants, which came into force in January 2024, appear to be reducing the number of international students. These changes will reduce immigration and mean that of the international students who choose the UK, fewer will progress into work routes via the Graduate route and will instead return to their home countries. As such, the MAC has advised that the Home Office government better understand the impact of existing changes before making further changes.

Overall, the MAC concluded that the UK’s Graduate visa scheme is not undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system.

What has the MAC recommended for the UK Graduate visa?

The MAC has recommended the following for the UK’s Graduate visa scheme:

  • Retaining the Graduate route in its current form
  • Requiring universities to publish data on their spending on international recruitment agents and the number of students recruited through agents annually as a starting point for improving disclosure
  • Establishing a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents, which encompasses the quality controls in the voluntary AQF, consulting with the Devolved Administrations to ensure UK-wide coverage.
  • Before opening new migration routes or making significant policy changes, the government should have 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.
  • Introducing a requirement for universities to provide confirmation of the course outcome (e.g., class of degree) on the student route, in addition to confirmation that a course has been successfully completed and is currently required.
  • A review by the Home Office of the data variables used for analytical purposes across the largest visa routes (including the Skilled Worker route, Student route and Graduate route) to develop a clear definition of what these data represent and the quality of each variable collected.

Final words

The MAC report on the Graduate visa confirms that there is no widespread abuse of the scheme, and the route is important in attracting international students to the UK. It also points out that while the government say they want to attract the “brightest and best”, the Home Office have no definition for what this means. This is important because, without a definition, it is not entirely clear who the government wants to attract to the UK. The future of the Graduate visa in the UK is in the balance, and the MAC’s findings will be pivotal in determining whether it will undergo significant reforms or be scrapped altogether under the current government.

A Y & J Solicitors is a specialist immigration law firm with extensive experience with all types of visa applications. We have an in-depth understanding of immigration law and are professional and results-focused. For assistance with your visa application or any other UK immigration law concerns, please contact us on +44 20 7404 7933 or at contact us today. We’re here to help!

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