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UK Graduate Visa Review: Significant Changes?

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By Sanwar Ali:

Government Concerns

The UK Home Secretary James Cleverly, has expressed concerns about the Graduate Visa route. He thinks that the main motivation for students to come to the UK may be to stay and work in the UK. However, these concerns have been met with criticism from universities and businesses, who argue that the Graduate Visa route is crucial for attracting international talent. Surely, the UK Graduate visa is there to encourage students to live and work in the UK.

The Review

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been formally commissioned by Home Secretary James Cleverly to conduct a review of the Graduate Visa route. The review will look at a number of factors, including who is using the visa route, from what universities they graduated, and what they do after they finish their studies. The MAC is expected to report back with recommendations around September-October 2024.

Impact on Universities

Universities UK (UUK), which represents the UK’s universities, has emphasized the importance of the Graduate Visa route in attracting international students. Rachel Hewitt, chief executive of the MillionPlus group of universities, has expressed concern about the timing of the review and its potential impact on the higher education sector. She emphasized that higher education is a British success story and that negative headlines and policy reforms that make Britain less attractive to international students damage both the higher education sector and UK PLC.

Business Perspective

The UK business community is anxious about potential changes to the Graduate Visa route. Businesses value the Graduate Visa because it allows them to hire talented graduates from around the world. The visa route is particularly important for sectors such as technology and engineering, which are facing skills shortages. A recent survey found that two-thirds of businesses would be less likely to hire international graduates if the Graduate Visa route was scrapped. The business community is urging the government to think carefully about any changes to the Graduate Visa route.

Potential Changes

The outcome of the government’s review is uncertain. The government wants to substantially reduce immigration levels. It is possible that the government could make changes to the visa route, such as:

  • Eligibility Criteria: The government could make it more difficult for certain students to qualify for the Graduate Visa route. This could involve tightening the academic or financial requirements for eligibility.
  • Duration of Stay: The government could reduce the amount of time graduates can stay in the UK after graduation. Currently, graduates can stay for two years (or three years for PhD graduates) after their studies for work. This period could be shortened.
  • Job Restrictions: The government could introduce restrictions on the types of jobs graduates can take. For instance, they could require graduates to secure a job in a specific sector or at a certain salary level.
  • University Restrictions: The government could limit the Graduate Visa route to graduates from certain universities or courses. This could be based on the university’s ranking, the course’s relevance to UK’s strategic sectors, or other factors.

These potential changes could have significant implications for international students, UK universities, and businesses that rely on the talent and skills of international graduates. As such, all stakeholders will be closely watching the outcome of the review.

Critique of the Government

While the government has raised concerns about potential abuse of the visa system, the timing and manner of the review have raised eyebrows. Critics argue that the government’s actions undermine the updated international education strategy, with the aim of increasing the number of international students and diversifying recruitment. They contend that the government’s actions are damaging the reputation of the UK as a welcoming destination for international students and investment. It remains to be seen how the government will balance its immigration concerns with the need to maintain the UK’s standing as a global leader in higher education.

It’s important to note that the Graduate Visa route is not just about education, but also about immigration. It provides a way for many international students to immigrate to the UK, contributing to the diversity and vitality of the UK society. 

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