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June’s Employment Law Digest – No Radical Reform of the Graduate Route

Following the recent uncertain future of the Graduate route, it now looks unlikely that any radical reform will be made. Speculation began in March when the Home Secretary instructed the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to conduct a rapid review of the route.

The MAC’s report last month returned positive findings despite ministers’ concerns that the Graduate route was subject to abuse.

What is the Graduate visa route?

The Graduate visa route was introduced in July 2021. It provides international graduates with a chance to remain in the UK for up to 2 years (or 3 years for PhD graduates) after the successful completion of their studies at a UK university. The eligibility requirements are fairly straightforward. Applicants need to successfully complete a degree with an approved higher education provider and their last UK visa must have been as a Student.

The aim of the route is to retain educated migrants who will contribute to the UK economy. As there is no restriction on employment on the Graduate route, the chance to explore the UK job market has made this visa an attractive option.

What was the MAC asked to review?

Despite the government’s intentions to ‘attract and retain bright international students to contribute to…the economy’, there were concerns that the route was being abused. Reservations about international students being motivated to study in the UK solely based on immigration and not education, was at the heart of the government’s request for a review of the Graduate route.

To understand if the Graduate route was fulfilling its purpose, the MAC was tasked with completing a rapid review and asked to provide any evidence that the route is subject to abuse and whether it is fit for purpose. The government also asked the MAC to provide data on:

  • Who is using the Graduate route, as well as providing information on the universities they graduated from
  • Demographics and trends applicable to students accessing a study visa and subsequently accessing the UK labour market by means of the Graduate route
  • What individuals do during and after their time on the Graduate route and whether students who progress to the Graduate route are contributing to the economy
  • Whether the Graduate route is undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system

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What does the review say?

The MAC recommended retaining the Graduate route without making any changes to the conditions attached to the visa. In its analysis, the MAC found no evidence of the perceived abuse. As there are only a few conditions attached to leave as a Graduate, this finding is unsurprising.

The MAC also confirmed that the recently introduced restrictions on Student visa holders being able to bring their dependants already acts as a barrier to the Graduate route. With this provision in place since January 2024, the MAC expects that international student recruitment will decrease significantly from September 2024. Current data confirms that there has already been a 57% decline in the number of prospective students paying deposits to study at British universities.

Evidence in the report also confirmed that there has been a decrease in the number of people moving from the Graduate route to the Skilled Worker route. This decrease has been linked to the substantial increases in the salary thresholds required for applicants on the Skilled Worker route, in place since 4 April 2024.

A key finding of the MAC centres on the impact that changes to the Graduate route would have on the tenuous financial position of UK universities. The report emphasises that further restrictions would have disastrous financial consequences for a sector that relies on foreign fee income for more than a fifth of its revenues.

What’s next?

The MAC’s report is clear in its message that the Graduate route should remain in its current iteration. For now, it seems that the government has accepted the MAC’s recommendations and will leave the Graduate route in its current form but intends to keep it ‘under review’. However, further regulation around the Student route is already in motion. Proposed measures to regulate the recruitment of international students and tougher compliance standards for higher education institutions have been announced. The government’s commitment to lowering overall levels of migration continues to focus on the higher education sector.

Whether you’re a business or an individual, if you have any questions with regard to this matter or any other related immigration issues please do get in touch with our expert Immigration Solicitors. For any more general Employment queries talk to our Employment Law Solicitors.