Scrapping graduate visa route ‘would have small effects on net migration’

Scrapping the graduate visa route for international students would have a limited effect on reducing net migration, a Government adviser has suggested.

Recent immigration policy changes – such as the ban on many overseas students bringing dependants and the increase in the salary thresholds for the skilled worker route – will impact the number of overseas graduates who progress into the workforce, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said.

About 70,000 international students who finished university in 2023 might have been expected to go into work routes but recent policy changes may reduce this number to around 26,000, the MAC has estimated.

“I think most of the hard work has been done – by the student dependant changes and the skilled worker threshold – in terms of reducing the long-run net migration effect of the graduate route.”

Prof Bell said the changes to student dependant rules announced last year appeared to be having a “very significant effect” on student numbers.

He cautioned the Government against taking further action to reduce numbers until there was a “clearer picture” of the impact of these recent changes.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick
Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick recently put forward a series of proposals to curb migration which included scrapping the graduate route (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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

But the MAC review into the graduate route on Tuesday – commissioned by the Government – concluded that the route should remain in its current form.

Prof Bell told reporters that the “rapid review” was carried out because the Government wants to make a decision “in the next week or two weeks”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly
Home Secretary James Cleverly asked the MAC to review the graduate route in March (Lucy North/PA)

When the Home Secretary asked the MAC to review the graduate route in March, he suggested the majority of international students who switched from the graduate route to a skilled-worker route went into care work.

James Cleverly said at the time this was “not what the Government intended”.

However, Prof Bell said that data provided by the Home Office – and presented in the commissioning letter from Mr Cleverly to the MAC – was “incorrect” and about 20% went into care work.

Prof Bell said he was “baffled” that a Government could launch an immigration route and not have a data plan in place to evaluate the route and monitor it.

“That just seems incredible to me,” he added.

He told reporters on Tuesday: “It really shouldn’t be up to the MAC to have to go around finding out data for the Government. That should be something that they do as part of their business as usual.”

But when asked by reporters whether he believes the route meets this goal, Prof Bell said: “The Government itself hasn’t given a definition, so that’s where we’ve had the biggest problem.

“It’s a lovely phrase, but unless you put meat on it and tell us what it means then it’s rather difficult.

“If at the end of the day you wanted to change immigration rules, you can’t get away with just saying ‘best and brightest’ in the immigration rules. You have to be clear about what it means.

“We therefore didn’t take a strong stance on it, on what it meant.”

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