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UK’s proposed Graduate Route visa review to impact Indian students

December 14, 2023

On Wednesday, December 13, a new independent report into migration suggested a proposed UK government review of the Graduate Route visa allowing overseas students a two-year post-study work option and dominated by Indian students will analyse whether it is operating in the best interests of Britain by retaining high-skilled talent. 

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which advises the UK government on its visa policies, said that it is awaiting a formal Home Office commission following an announcement in Parliament last week by home secretary James Cleverly that the Graduate Route would be reviewed “to prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of UK higher education”.

Since it was enforced by former home secretary Priti Patel in July 2021, 42 percent of the 176,000 students granted a Graduate Route visa were Indian nationals – which means any changes to this category will have a significant impact on Indians.

“I wouldn’t like to get into exactly what they (Home Office) are going to ask us to look at but there are a range of options there,” MAC chair professor Brian Bell told reporters in a virtual media briefing.

“At the moment, essentially, there’s no restriction on what you can do (under the Graduate Route); if you’ve got the money, you can just sit around and do nothing in the UK for two years… You could obviously restrict it to being certain types of job or certain types of activity that you would choose and also limit it in terms of what universities you went to, what courses you did if you wanted to limit it… I’m not saying that would be something that the committee would recommend, but it will be something we will certainly consider in an overall review,” he said.

Bell indicated that if the Home Office commission is received early in the new year, MAC would be expecting to report back around September-October 2024.

In its annual report finalised before the review was announced in Parliament, MAC notes, “More fundamentally, we suggest that the government needs to decide what the purpose of the Graduate Route is. If its primary objective is to enhance the offer to international students who choose to study in the UK and so increase the number of international students in higher education, then it appears to have been a resounding success.

“If the objective is to attract talented students who will subsequently work in high-skilled graduate jobs, then we are sceptical that it adds much to the Skilled Worker route which was already available to switch into after graduation, and we expect that at least a significant fraction of the Graduate Route will comprise low-wage workers.”

Diaspora student groups had already raised concerns around such a wide-ranging review into a visa category which is considered a definitive factor in Indian students choosing the UK as a higher education destination.

“There are clear threats on the policy horizon. I think it is very important that the Graduate Route review is focussed narrowly on any abuses of the route, rather than on a wholesale re-questioning of the role of the post-study work offer in the UK, which is of pivotal importance to continue to support the living bridge,” said Lord Jo Johnson, a former UK universities minister, at the launch of India UK Achievers Honours 2024 in the Parliament complex on Tuesday.

The National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK led initiative, now in its second year, spotlights the contributions of Indian students to the UK’s socio-economic landscape and is now open for a new round of applications.

“One of our key objectives behind this endeavour is to change mindsets and to show that international students are not merely an immigration statistic, but innovators and changemakers whose contributions in the development of their fields of study and societies must not be ignored,” said NISAU UK chair Sanam Arora.

“This government has lost the plot when it comes to immigration. We have a hostile immigration policy, a hostile immigration approach, which is hugely damaging to the United Kingdom around the world,” noted NISAU UK patron Lord Karan Bilimoria, who had first campaigned for a post-study work visa back in 2007.

A crackdown on international students sponsoring dependents had already been tabled by former home secretary Suella Braverman, which means from January 2024 applicants other than those on postgraduate courses designated as a research programme will be banned from bringing family members on their visa. 

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