Business Immigration Update: Graduate Visa Route Under Review

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recently published a rapid review of the graduate visa route in their recommendations to the Home Secretary (The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP). MAC ultimately recommended that the route should be retained in its current form and also highlighted several key findings that underscore the significance of the scheme for international students, UK universities and the broader economy.

Pam Sidhu, Partner at Wilkes, comments:

It is extremely good news for businesses that the government has decided to retain graduate visas. This is a useful route that enables foreign students who complete a degree-level or above course in the UK to remain in the UK for another two years for work purposes (in any role). Many UK employers often decide to “switch” these graduates into more permanent sponsored employment, after a “try and test” two year period. Further, such migrants will most likely qualify as “new entrants” under the Skilled Worker sponsorship system, such that they can be sponsored in jobs on lower salaries than for other skilled foreign workers. We advise many employers in these scenarios.”

What is the Graduate Visa Route?

The graduate visa route is a post-study work route for international students who have successfully completed a degree-level or above programme in the UK. It was reported that 66,000 graduate visas were granted in 2022 which more than doubled in 2023 to 144,000 with dependants making up an estimated 30,000.

In 2023, the government began action to reduce the number of dependants who were entering the UK on a student visa and as of January 2024, most international students have been unable to bring family members with them to the UK.

MAC have since provided their thoughts on the scheme.

MAC Findings:

  • There was no finding of significant abuse within the graduate visa route where abuse was defined as deliberate non-compliance with immigration rules.
  • There was no widespread evidence to suggest that the graduate route is undermining the integrity of the UK’s higher education system.
  • The graduate visa route is working as intended by allowing international graduates to stay in the UK for up to two years to work or look for work, contributing to the UK’s economy and higher education sector.
  • Significant increases in salary thresholds for the Skilled Worker route, introduced on 4 April 2024, are expected to deter many graduates from moving to long-term visas. However, the increases in salary thresholds for Skilled Worker do not apply in full to such graduates, therefore the graduate route is still an attractive “stepping stone” to sponsored employment.
  • There are concerns that additional restrictions on the graduate route could exacerbate the financial health of UK universities who heavily depend on international student fees to offset losses from domestic student tuition and research funding.
  • Issues with the use of recruitment agencies by universities were identified as some agents were found to provide misleading information to prospective students. It was suggested that a registration system for recruitment agencies should be introduced to protect students from exploitation and enhance data collection and monitoring.

MAC’s review underscores the importance of the graduate visa route in maintaining the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for international students and retaining talent that can contribute to the economy. However, early indications suggest that the international student intake for September 2024 will be substantially reduced by an estimated 63% in comparison to the previous year.

For more information or to discuss anything Business Immigration related, please contact our Partner and Head of Business Immigration, Pam Sidhu, on 0121 233 4333 or by email at [email protected].

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