Sunak plans to tweak Graduate Route visa

The Graduate Route visa, introduced in July 2021, allows international students to remain in the UK for up to two years (three years for PhD graduates) after completing their studies…reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce a crackdown on recruitment agents providing misleading information to prospective international students in certain markets. He is also considering modifying the Graduate Route visa scheme, popular among Indians, to restrict visas to only the “best and the brightest”.

Sunak’s move, which targets agents marketing graduate visa schemes overseas, including in India, aims to show a tougher stance on immigration, which is a key issue in the UK’s January 2025 general election. With this crackdown on educational recruiters, Sunak is seeking ways to reduce the number of international students coming to study in the UK.

The new measures, which could be revealed as early as next week, coincide with quarterly migration data releases from the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics, according to a report by the Financial Times.

The plan to modify the Graduate Route visa scheme has not yet been formally discussed by ministers, according to the report.

A report issued by the British government reveals that a post-study visa programme, popularly known as the Graduate Route visa and is dominated by Indian graduates, is helping UK universities recover from financial losses and expand research opportunities.

The Graduate Route visa, introduced in July 2021, allows international students to remain in the UK for up to two years (three years for PhD graduates) after completing their studies.

“We found no evidence of any significant abuse of the Graduate route. By abuse we mean deliberate non-compliance with immigration rules. However, we do have concerns over the use of recruitment agents by universities in certain markets in providing misleading information to prospective international students,” the report stated.

The UK government was reviewing the Graduate Route visa and that caused consternation among the international student community. In fact, applications to UK universities were dropped because of the visa programme uncertainty.

According to the report, the top five nationalities account for nearly 75% of all Graduate Route visas with India accounting for over 40% of them. Indian nationals made up a higher proportion of Graduate Route visas (42%) compared to their proportion of student visas (26%).

In 2023, 114,000 Graduate visas were granted for main applicants with a further 30,000 being granted for dependants. The take-up of these visas is largely concentrated among 4 nationalities. The top 4 nationalities — India, Nigeria, China and Pakistan — accounted for 70% of all Graduate visas, with India accounting for over 40%.

In the student visa category, Indian nationals represent the largest group of students granted leave to remain on this route, making up 43% of grants last year.

However, applications from India fell to 8,770, a drop of 4%, compared to the previous year.

Sunak’s proposed crackdown includes a mandatory agent registration scheme and fines for malpractice. Additionally, he is considering modifying the graduate visa scheme to restrict visas to only the “best and the brightest”.

However, this approach has not yet been formally discussed by ministers, reported the Financial Times. This move comes as universities face dire financial positions due to declining international student numbers.

The prime minister is under pressure from his party to reduce legal migration, with the ruling Conservative party trailing the opposition Labour Party in the polls. The potential changes have been met with resistance from key cabinet members, including Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.

They worry that further declines in migrant students will worsen the financial situation in the UK. Keegan, who supports measures to eliminate system abuse by agents, opposes limiting access to the scheme based on student quality or the degrees they pursue. “This can’t all be about PPEs from Oxford,” she told colleagues.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) found evidence that agents mis-selling courses. They recommended tighter regulations, including requiring universities to publish data on spending for international recruitment agents and setting up a mandatory registration system.

An ally of Sunak expressed interest in a scheme like the “High Potential Individual” programme, which allows graduates from the top 50 universities worldwide to stay in the UK for two years without employer sponsorship.

Iain Mansfield from Policy Exchange suggested giving graduate visas only to students from “high tariff” universities, which require the highest grades. Universities and businesses are urging Sunak to rethink his approach, arguing that focusing only on the “best and the brightest” is misguided.

Former Conservative universities minister Lord Jo Johnson warned that the government risks appearing out of touch by targeting one of the UK’s few globally competitive sectors based on narrow political motives rather than evidence.

ALSO READ-Undeterred Sunak set to scrap graduate visa scheme


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *