Graduate visa route should remain in place, say Government’s migration advisers

The UK’s graduate visa route is “not undermining” the integrity and quality of the higher education system and should remain, the Government’s migration advisers have said.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (Mac) did not find evidence of widespread abuse of the route – which allows overseas students to stay in the UK for two or three years after graduation.

The Government-commissioned review into the post-study visa said it should be retained in its current form, adding that it helps attract international students, who pay higher tuition fees, to the UK.

Some courses at universities, such as Stem subjects, would be “less financially viable” to run if the number of international students fall, which could impact the availability of the courses to domestic students, the Mac report said.

The review comes as the Government searches for measures to cut migration.

The Government said it was considering the findings “very closely” and would respond in “due course”.

Last week, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick put forward a series of proposals to curb migration – which included scrapping the graduate route.

Last year, 114,000 graduate visas were granted, with a further 30,000 for dependants, the Mac report said.

In March, Home Secretary James Cleverly said he wanted to ensure the graduate route was “not being abused” and it was supporting the UK to attract and retain “the brightest and the best”.

In a letter to the Mac, when commissioning the review, Mr Cleverly suggested the majority of overseas students who switched from the graduate route to a skilled-worker route went into care work.

But the Mac said the data was “incorrect” and about 20% went into care work.

The findings come ahead of the latest net migration figures being published next week.

The Mac suggests it is likely that there will be a “significant reduction” in future use of the graduate route as a result of the policy changes introduced.

The review said any further restrictions on the graduate route could further exacerbate the decline in international student numbers and lead to job losses, course closures and a reduction in research in UK universities – and it warned it is “not inconceivable that some institutions would fail”.

The report also raised concerns about agents recruiting prospective international students who may be “mis-selling UK higher education”, but it stressed this was a separate issue from the graduate route.

The Government should establish a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents, the Mac said.

Professor Brian Bell, chairman of the Mac, said: “The graduate route is a key part of the offer that we make to international students to come and study in the UK.

“Without those students, many universities would need to shrink and less research would be done.”

Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK (UUK), said: “The uncertainty caused by the decision to review the visa has been toxic.”

She added: “We hope and expect that Government now listens to the advice they have been given and provides categorical reassurance that the graduate visa is here to stay.”

But Mr Jenrick suggested the Mac’s conclusions had “been constrained by the narrow terms of reference deliberately set by the Government”.

He said: “If you order white paint, you get a whitewash.”

Downing Street has said it would set out its response to the Mac review of the graduate visa route “in due course”, taking a decision “in the round”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM has been clear that legal migration numbers are too high. We are working to bring those down.”

He added: “(The Prime Minister) has said before that British students should be the priority for our education system and universities and student visas must be used for education, not immigration.”

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