UK Home Office Tasks MAC to Review Graduate Visa Route

| March 14, 2024
UK Home Office Tasks MAC to Review Graduate Visa Route

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will evaluate whether the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) graduate visa route serves its purpose and is not abused.

A graduate visa allows students who have completed their course to stay and work in the UK for two years without a sponsor.

For students with Ph.D. or doctorate qualifications, the graduate visa allows them to remain in the UK for three years.

In a letter to Professor Brian Bell of the MAC, UK Home Office Secretary James Cleverly expressed concerns about exploiting the graduate visa as a shortcut to obtaining work permits.

He has asked the MAC to determine whether the graduate visa is “undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system.”

The Home Secretary first revealed the government’s intention to review the graduate visa route in December 2023.

He announced the graduate visa review along with other significant changes to legal migration policies to reduce net migration.

UK’s commitment to higher education

Cleverly emphasized that the government remains “committed to attracting talented students from around the world to study in the UK.”

He added that the government values the excellence of the UK’s higher education sector and the contributions of international students.

However, Cleverly said it is also crucial to address immigration abuse to maintain the quality of education and reputation of UK universities.

The government must ensure that the demand for graduate visas is not “driven more by a desire for immigration rather than education.”

The MAC will examine evidence of abuse and its impact on attracting and retaining top talents.

This includes analyzing who applies for the graduate visa route and from what universities they graduated.

It will also look into what jobs they do during and after their time on the graduate visa.

The advisory committee will also examine whether graduate visa holders contribute to the UK’s higher education system and economic growth.

How to qualify for a graduate visa

The UK introduced the graduate visa in July 2021. Its goal was to allow eligible students to work or search for work after completing an eligible course.

The government launched it to attract and retain international students who contribute to society and the economy.

It also aims to help businesses recruit highly qualified talent from across the globe to drive the economy forward.

To apply for a graduate visa in the UK, students must first hold a valid student visa.

They must also successfully complete an undergraduate, postgraduate, or doctoral degree. The course must be from a higher education provider with a compliance record.

Graduate visa applicants are not required to show proof of financial ability to support themselves in the UK.

They are also not required to have a job offer or earn a minimum salary like the skilled worker route.

Families of graduate visa applicants can only apply as dependents if they were the applicant’s dependents while on the student visa.

Why review the UK Graduate visa route

According to the UK’s migration statistics, the graduate visa is one of the significant drivers in work extension visa grants.

For the year ending December 2023, visa extensions issued in work routes increased by 48 percent to 310,056.

Students extending their stay to work in the UK via the graduate visa route accounted for 114,409.

It is 57 percent higher than in 2022. This accounts for over one-third, or 37 percent, of all work visa extensions.

Initial data from the MAC’s annual report also showed that foreign student enrollment at lower tariff institutions rose to 32 percent in 2022.

Additionally, international postgraduate enrollment at institutions with the lowest Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) tariff quartiles increased by over 250 percent from 2018 to 2022.

“We are keen to understand the drivers behind this, including whether it is because people are using these courses as a long-term route to work in the UK,” Cleverly said.

Data showed that international students can pay lower fees for a one-year course and then stay on a graduate visa for two years without needing a job.

After that, graduate visa holders can access four years of discounted minimum salary threshold on the Skilled Worker route.

This allows international graduates to enter the UK job market with salaries lower than those required for most migrant skilled workers.

A new analysis by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford revealed that care work is the most common job for international students who switch from graduate to skilled worker visas.

In the year ending June 2023, around 60 percent of graduate visa holders who switched to skilled worker visas became care or senior care workers.

More rule changes to ensure the graduate visa is not abused

The British government has already taken steps to ensure its student visas are not being exploited.

Starting in January 2024, most student visa holders can no longer bring dependents to the UK.

Only postgraduate research students and those enrolled in government-funded scholarship courses can bring their families to the country.

Additionally, student visa holders also cannot switch to work visas before completing their course.

In April 2024, the government is raising the minimum salary threshold for skilled worker visa applicants from £26,200 to £38,700.

This will increase the minimum salaries required to switch from a graduate visa to a skilled worker visa. The increase will also cover jobs with salary threshold discounts.

International students can still avail of the new entrant discount to obtain a skilled worker visa. However, the minimum salary threshold will significantly increase.

The 20 percent discount on jobs in the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) will be abolished and replaced by the new Immigration Salary List (ISL).

The MAC recently released recommendations for 21 jobs to be added to the ISL list.

This represents only eight percent of the current SOL list, a considerable decline from 30 percent of roles included in the SOL.

The minimum salary requirement for family visas will also increase from £18,600 to £29,000.

By early 2025, it will rise to £38,700 and match the skilled worker minimum salary threshold.

Additionally, the UK government raised the immigration health surcharge in February 2024.