Credit: Ananya Navale

Graduate visa scheme under pressure from government

Members of the Conservative Party have put the Graduate visa scheme under pressure in an effort to cut down net legal migration, despite recommendations advising against abolishing the programme. 

As of December 2023, graduate students make up about 52% of Oxford University’s student body. International students likewise make up more than half of graduate students and come from a variety of countries and territories. 

In March, Home Secretary James Cleverly formally commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent, non-departmental public body, to review and investigate the Graduate Route and whether it was being used for immigration aspirations rather than to “attract and retain bright international students”. This comes as part of Cleverly’s “five-point plan” to reduce net migration, announced in December 2023. 

After 14 weeks of investigation, MAC officially advised against abolishing the visa scheme in its current form in a report published in May. It found no evidence of widespread abuse of the visa scheme, or “deliberate non-compliance with immigration rules”. It similarly highlighted that the Graduate Route is “not undermining the integrity of and quality of the UK higher education system”.

However, the report noted the use of recruitment agents by universities may undermine the integrity of higher education in the UK through misleading or exploiting prospective international students. The University does not currently use student recruitment agencies, making this risk inapplicable.

The report also stated that any additional restrictions on international students could reduce their numbers, thereby negatively impacting universities given the current higher education funding model. 

Despite MAC recommendations, as well as lobbying efforts from university and industry leaders, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may still impose restrictions. Decisions regarding abolishing or reforming the Graduate Route are yet to be announced.

The Graduate Route came into effect on 1 July 2021, enabling international students to stay and work in the UK following the completion of their course. Students must possess a valid Tier 4 or Student visa at the time of application and be located within the UK.

The visa scheme grants 2 years to those who complete an undergraduate degree, PGCE, or master’s degree, and 3 years for doctoral students. Students must apply for the Graduate Route before their Student visa expires, which is usually about four months after the course ends. 

2023 marked a record level of Graduate visas granted for main applicants and dependants. There were 144,000 Graduate visas granted, with a further 30,000 for dependants. Last year, the top five countries that received Graduate Route visas came from India, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, and the US. 

Students seeking to apply for the Graduate Route may consult the University’s website for more information. 

Image Credit: Ananya Navale

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