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Report Supports Continuation of Graduate Visa Route Amid Immigration Policy Debates

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Report supports continuation of graduate visa program, following immigration worries highlighted by home secretary

After concerns about potential misuse for immigration, James Cleverly ordered an urgent investigation into the graduate visa program.

Political correspondent @alixculbertson

Tuesday, May 14, 2024, 2:

A recent study has emphasized that the graduate visa program is essential for the financial support of UK universities and maintains that it does not compromise the quality or integrity of higher education.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) conducted a review to determine if the visa program was subject to misuse and to assess whether it was primarily motivated by immigration intentions, following an urgent request from Home Secretary James Cleverly in March.

A post-study work visa allows international students to remain in the UK for up to three years following their graduation from a British university. Spouses and offspring are eligible to apply as dependents.

Last week, ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick released a report advocating for the elimination of the graduate visa, asserting that it permits individuals to enter and work within the gig economy at extremely low pay rates.

University and business executives expressed concerns that the program, launched in 2021, might be eliminated or reduced if the evaluation had been unfavorable. This anxiety arose as universities observed a significant decline in applications from international students, worried about potential new limitations.

The panel, consisting of five university academics and an official from the Home Office, reported that they discovered "no signs of pervasive misuse" within the graduate program.

"The report indicates that the potential for misuse is minimal because the pathway has several specific restrictions."

The study revealed that the visa pathway is enabling universities to broaden their academic offerings and compensate for financial shortfalls from local students and research activities, while also aligning with the government's strategy for international education.

According to the report, in 2023, there were 114,000 graduate route visas issued to applicants, along with an additional 30,000 for their dependents.

The report indicates that a significant majority of graduate visas, about 70%, are held by students from India, Nigeria, China, and Pakistan. Notably, Indian students alone make up over 40% of

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Chairman of the MAC and prominent labor economist, Professor Brian Bell, who also serves as the head of economics at King's College London, stated: "Our analysis suggests that the current graduate pathway should be maintained as it stands, asserting that it does not compromise the quality and integrity of the UK's higher education system."

The graduate pathway is a crucial component of the proposition we present to overseas students considering pursuing their studies in the UK.

"The tuition paid by these students assists universities in offsetting the financial deficits incurred from educating domestic students and conducting research.

If not for those students, numerous universities would have to downsize and research output would decrease.

"This underscores the intricate relationship between policies on immigration and those governing higher education."

A spokesperson for the government stated, "Our goal is to draw the most talented individuals to pursue their studies at our top-tier universities, while also safeguarding our immigration system from misuse. This is the reason the Home Secretary has initiated an independent evaluation of the graduate pathway."

We have implemented firm measures to tackle the issue of unsustainable migration rates, and our strategies are proving effective. There has been a 24% reduction in visa applications via major channels in the first quarter of this year compared to the same timeframe last year.

"We are thoroughly examining the conclusions of the review and will provide a comprehensive response in due time."

In response to the findings, Mr. Jenrick stated that the graduate program "needs to be eliminated," emphasizing the necessity for the UK to "rapidly reduce the industry’s increasing reliance on international students." He criticized the program as a "loophole allowing international students to engage in low-paid employment…that fails to draw high-caliber individuals."

He stated that the findings of the review were limited by the specific parameters imposed by the government, which were intentionally designed to support their International Education Strategy, incorporating the "random goal" of enrolling 600,000 international students annually.

"When you request white paint, what you receive is a simple whitewash," he stated.

The British Chambers of Commerce responded positively to the report, noting that businesses consistently report that locating individuals with the necessary skills to fill vacancies continues to be a significant challenge.

The Migration Advisory Committee has urged the government to create a compulsory registration system for overseas recruitment agents. Additionally, it proposed that universities be mandated to disclose their expenditures on these agents and the quantity of students they enroll via these channels, to prevent misuse of the system.

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The study revealed that the majority of individuals on the graduate path had finished postgraduate programs, with the most significant increase in visas being from postgraduate courses at non-Russell Group universities, which represented 66% of all graduate visas issued.

Since 2021, the percentage of primary applicants older than 25 has risen by 15 percentage points, reaching 54% in 2023.

The study revealed that individuals with graduate visas often start in lower-paying jobs, but their career opportunities and earnings tend to increase as time passes.

Approximately 50% of the initial group of graduate visa recipients transitioned to skilled worker visas, mainly for positions that require specialized skills.

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