MAC Recommends Keeping UK Graduate Visa, Cites Low Risk of Abuse

| May 16, 2024
MAC Recommends Keeping UK Graduate Visa, Cites Low Risk of Abuse

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended that the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) Graduate visa remain in place and in its current form.

“We found that the Graduate route is broadly achieving the objectives set out by the Home Office,” wrote MAC chair Professor Brian Bell.

In his letter to Home Secretary James Cleverly, Bell also stated that the route is “not undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system.”

The UK’s Graduate visa allows international students who have completed their course to stay and work in the country without a sponsor for two years.

For individuals holding Ph.D. or doctorate qualifications, the Graduate visa permits them to stay in the UK for three years.

The MAC said the rule change on Student visa dependants “will likely already have an effect” on the Graduate visa route going forward.

From 1 January, only students in postgraduate research courses and courses with government-funded scholarships were allowed to bring their families to the UK.

Additionally, students can only switch to work visas after they have completed their course.

“Implementing additional restrictions or closing the route now could risk overcorrection,” Bell stressed.

He also said that higher international student fees help universities cover the financial deficit from the lower fees paid by local students. It also helps cover funding for conducting research.

Without international students, Bell said many universities would need to downsize, leading to fewer research programs.

Bell suggested that the government first address the structural funding issues in the higher education sector before adding restrictions to the Graduate visa.

This includes having a clear plan for collecting data to monitor and assess the route’s effectiveness and understand wider impacts.

The MAC could not assess the risk of overstaying on the Graduate visa due to a lack of Home Office data.

Another MAC suggestion is to require universities to confirm course completion results, such as the class of degree.

This is on top of the current requirement to verify if a course has been successfully completed.

UK Graduate visa route presents a low risk of abuse

The Home Secretary announced plans to review the Graduate visa in December 2023. It came with the statement on the significant changes to legal migration policies.

In March 2024, the Home Secretary commissioned the MAC to review the Graduate visa and ensure it serves its purpose.

Cleverly expressed concerns about migrants exploiting the Graduate visa as a shortcut to obtaining work permits.

However, the MAC declared in its review that they “have not found evidence of widespread abuse on the Graduate route.”

The committee defined abuse as “deliberate non-compliance with immigration rules.”

The MAC’s report revealed that Graduate visa holders are initially “overrepresented in lower-paid work.” However, their employment improves over time.

On the other hand, the MAC believes that some who recruit international students are “mis-selling UK higher education and exploiting students in the process.”

It “found some examples of bad practice from certain agents” in recruiting international students.

Although this is a separate issue from abuse of the immigration rules of the Graduate visa, it is still a cause for concern.

To address this, the MAC recommends that the UK government establish a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents.

The registration system should include quality checks from the Agent Quality Framework. 

It should also consult with Devolved Administrations to ensure compliance is UK-wide.

Additionally, the MAC suggested that universities be mandated to disclose how much they spend yearly on recruitment agents and how many international students are recruited through such means.

This will serve as an initial step toward ensuring more disclosure and transparency.

“Our recommendations should help ensure that the quality of UK higher education is upheld, and students are protected from exploitation,” Bell wrote.

UK government considering MAC recommendation on Graduate visa

University leaders who warned that abolishing the Graduate visa would cause financial turmoil in the sector welcomed the MAC’s review.

“We are considering the review’s findings very closely,” a government spokesperson said, as per The Guardian.

The spokesperson added that the government will “respond fully in due course.”

“We are committed to attracting the best and brightest to study at our world-class universities whilst preventing abuse of our immigration system,” the spokesperson stressed.

However, the Financial Times reported that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is still considering restricting the Graduate visa scheme to reduce net migration.

“British students should be the priority for our education system and universities and student visas must be used for education, not immigration,” said the Prime Minister’s spokesperson.

Number 10’s spokesperson said the UK government is not required to accept the independent committee’s recommendation.

The Home Secretary has delivered on its promise to cut net migration via new legal migration policies rolled out in the first quarter of 2024.

Since then, there has been a 24 percent drop in visa applications across key routes compared to the previous year.

This includes the Skilled Worker visa, Health and Care Worker visa, and Student visa routes.