From education to employment

Sector Reaction to the MAC Rapid Review of the Graduate Route

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The Migration Advisory Committee has today published its ‘Rapid Review of the Graduate Route‘. The report finds that the route is ‘not undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system’ and indeed confirms that it supports the Government’s International Education Strategy.

The Review by the Migration Advisory Committee demonstrates the positive contribution that international students make to the UK. The Review is unequivocal in its recommendation to government to maintain the Graduate Visa route.  

Professor Brian Bell, Chair, Migration Advisory Committee highlights three sets of recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee in a letter to the Home Secretary, James Cleverly.

The Migration Advisory Committee recommendations for the Graduate Route are:

Recommend retaining the Graduate route in its current form

  • We recommend retaining the Graduate route in its current form. We found that the Graduate route is broadly achieving the objectives set out by the Home Office, while also supporting Government education policy as outlined in the International Education Strategy. The changes to the rules on student dependants which were implemented in January and are in effect a change to the dependant rules of the Graduate route, will likely have a significant effect on Graduate route usage going forward. Whilst initial data suggests these changes are already substantially reducing international student numbers, we believe their full impact should be assessed before considering further changes. Implementing additional restrictions or closing the route now could risk overcorrection. Given international student fees help make up the financial deficit that universities have from teaching domestic students and research, any significant restrictions to the route should only be considered once the structural funding issues in the higher education sector have been addressed. This speaks to the broader point that any changes to migration policy will likely involve trade-offs across other areas of Government policy.

Government to establish a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents

  • We recommend that the Government establishes a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents which encompasses the quality controls in the voluntary Agent Quality Framework, consulting with the Devolved Administrations to ensure UK-wide coverage. We recommend that universities should be required to publish data on their spend on recruitment agents and the number of international students recruited through such means annually as a starting point to improving disclosure. Whilst most agents play an important role in promoting the UK and in supporting international students, we found some examples of bad practice from certain agents. Our recommendations should help ensure that the quality of UK higher education is upheld, and students are protected from exploitation.

Data and monitoring for the route and the wider immigration system

  • We provide several recommendations on data and monitoring for the route and the wider immigration system which are outlined in our report. Firstly, we recommend that the Government should only open new migration routes or make significant policy changes when it has a clear plan for how it will collect and monitor data to assess the effectiveness of the route against its objectives and understand wider impacts. We also recommend that the Home Office introduces a requirement for universities to provide it with confirmation of the course outcome (e.g., class of degree) on the Student route, in addition to confirmation that a course has been successfully completed which is currently required. We note that some of the data you referred to in your commissioning letter was incorrect. This data was not referring to those that had switched from the Graduate route to the Skilled Worker route, rather it covered those that had switched from the Student route to the Skilled Worker route. This takes us to our next recommendation; we recommend the Home Office undertakes a review of the data variables used for analytical purposes across the largest visa routes (including the Skilled Worker route, Student route and Graduate route) to develop a clear definition of what these data represent, and the quality of each variable collected. Finally, we recommend that the Government explore and make further use of the HO/HMRC matched data.

Sector Reaction to the Review by the Migration Advisory Committee demonstrates the positive contribution that international students make to the UK

Rosalind Gill, Head of Policy and Engagement at the National Centre for Universities and Business said: “The uncertainty caused by the Government request for a review has already severely disrupted international student recruitment. To avoid further impact, the Government must respond swiftly to confirm that no changes to the route will be made. This matters to universities but also to businesses because international students enrich the learning experience of domestic students and also support the UK workforce. Additionally, the fees they pay help to fund research and other university activities, such as their collaboration with businesses.”

Gill concluded: “International students enrich the academic environment, fostering diverse perspectives and cultural exchange. Their presence not only enhances the learning experience for domestic students but also creates numerous networking and collaborative opportunities, preparing all students for success in an increasingly globalised world. In no uncertain terms, universities and businesses alike benefit from our intake of international students, and we hope this enquiry will hammer home this finding.”

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“The MAC’s recommendation that the Graduate route should remain on its current terms is extremely important and welcome. The uncertainty caused by the decision to review the visa has been toxic. 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.

“As the MAC report makes clear, international students who remain to work in the UK on the Graduate Route are net contributors to the UK, important to our ability to compete as a study destination, and crucial to university finances. We understand the political pressure to reduce migration but, as the report makes clear, changes introduced earlier this year to prevent postgraduate taught students bringing dependants have already had a very significant effect. Recruitment ahead of September is already looking incredibly challenging, and the government should recognise this and that going further would be a serious mistake.

“We agree there is room to improve, building on what universities themselves have done, to tighten agent management and increase resilience in the system.

“What is needed now is stability – we need the Government to provide much needed reassurance to both universities and international students that the Graduate route is here to stay.”


John Foster, CBI Chief Policy and Campaigns Officer, said:

“Studying at university is one of our biggest export successes. Attracting international students boosts local economies and losing competitiveness would put support for undergraduate teaching and innovation at risk.

“With the MAC finding that the graduate visa is achieving the government’s own policy objectives and is not being abused, it’s time to put its future beyond doubt and end this period of damaging speculation.”

Responding to publication of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)’s report on the Graduate Visa, Mark Hilton, Policy Delivery Director at BusinessLDN, said:

“The MAC has rightly called for the Graduate Visa to be protected, highlighting the valuable contribution of those on the route to businesses across the UK.

“International applications for UK university places have plummeted since the announcement of this review, damaging our reputation in a highly competitive global marketplace. The Government must move swiftly to reverse that impact – failure to act on the findings of this report risks long-term damage to a key export sector.

“It should now work with education providers to bolster our status as a world leader in this industry, including by protecting the Graduate Visa as a driver of economic growth and contributor to our talent pipeline. “  

Commenting, NUS UK Vice President Higher Education, Chloe Field, said: 

“We welcome the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation to maintain the Graduate Route visa as it is. It should be as easy as possible for international students to access a high-quality education in the UK.

“Coming into contact with different cultures is undoubtedly positive for both international and home students, providing learning opportunities that are not limited to lectures and seminars, as well as opportunities to make lifelong friendships across borders.

“Fundamentally, education should be borderless; everyone should be able to access an education in the UK.

“We urge the government to follow the MAC’s recommendation to maintain the Graduate Route visa.”

The Migration Advisory Committee has today published its rapid review of the graduate visa route. It has found no evidence of widespread abuse recommending that the visa remains unchanged.

It is a decision that will be welcomed by UK universities and international students wishing to study in the UK, says global immigration lawyers Fragomen.

Louise Haycock, a Partner at Fragomen, the global immigration law firm, comments.

“The MAC’s review of the Graduate Route has confirmed what was obvious to all but the Government. The route has successfully enhanced the UK’s attractiveness to international talent, providing much-needed flexibility to businesses otherwise facing massive upfront investment in employees who are ultimately untested. It contributes to the UK’s economic and cultural growth with the MAC finding no abuse of the system.

“Let’s hope the Government now adheres to the MAC’s clear conclusion that the route should remain in place in its current form and does not impose politics over reason.”

Shuyeb Muquit, UK Government Affairs Strategy lead at Fragomen adds.

“The MAC report does, however, make several recommendations to help better manage and understand the impact of the graduate visa route. These include:

  • A mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents.
  • A requirement for universities to publish data on the number of students recruited via agents and the cost of using agents.
  • A requirement that universities provide the Home Office with confirmation of course outcome.

“Additionally, the MAC recommends that the Government only make changes or open new graduate visa routes when it has a clear plan on how it will collect and monitor data to assess the effectiveness of the route against its objectives.

“The Government should consider very carefully the general concern that reviews of important routes should not be expected rapidly as a matter of course. To do so disables stakeholders from the full opportunity of contributing requisite data and analysis, a criticism implicit in the MAC’s recommendations.”

Adam Kyte, Associate at Charles Russell Speechlyssays:

“It’s a relief to see that the MAC has recognised the value of the Graduate route to the UK; not only for the higher education sector but also for UK employers, whom we increasingly see having to rely this route to fill skills shortages given the increasing costs and salary restrictions for Skilled Worker visas.

“There is a widening gap at the junior end of the UK employment market following the introduction of higher salary thresholds for Skilled Workers. The Graduate route serves a dual purpose of providing a stepping stone to more senior or higher paid roles, and a source of temporary employment which both the graduate and the UK can benefit from.

“Suggestions of “abuse” of the Graduate route fall away in the face of the data: 63% of Graduate visa holders are in salaried employment within the first month of their visa, with 61% in employment for the full first 12 months of the visa.  It is particularly interesting that the research shows domestic graduates and Graduate visa holders filling similar roles across industry, with similar earnings within 18 months post-graduation.”

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