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UK Government Recommends Retaining Graduate Visa Route Amid Calls for Reduction in Net Migration

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Indian student representative bodies expressed relief following an independent review of the graduate visa route by the UK’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). The review, published on Tuesday, recommended retaining the visa, which allows international students to work or seek employment in the UK for two years after graduation.

This recommendation follows a report by two Conservative MPs, released on a think tank’s website last week, which advocated eliminating the graduate visa route to reduce net migration figures.

Review Findings and Recommendations

The MAC found no significant abuse of the graduate visa route but noted concerns about some international recruitment agents misrepresenting UK higher education. The committee stressed that visas are crucial for the financial stability of UK universities, which rely on fees from international students.

India was the largest group, making up 42% of the 114,000 graduate visas issued in 2023. A report commissioned by the UK government highlighted that new restrictions, which began in January 2024, prevent taught master’s students from bringing dependents. This has caused a sharp drop in international student deposits for the September 2024 intake, with deposits from Indian students down 69%.

The MAC recommended keeping the graduate visa route, noting that applicant numbers are already falling. New salary thresholds for the skilled worker visa, introduced in April, are expected to decrease these numbers further.

Potential Impact on Universities

The report warned that closing the graduate visa route or imposing further restrictions could place many universities at financial risk. Potential consequences include job losses, course closures, reduced research output, and even the collapse of some universities that depend on international student fees to subsidize domestic students and research.

To address the concerns, the MAC recommended establishing a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents. It also suggested that universities be required to publish data on their expenditure on these agents and the number of students recruited through them. Additionally, universities should provide the Home Office with information on the classes of degrees obtained by their students.

Government Response and Student Reactions

The UK government said it would consider the MAC’s review and respond promptly.

Vignesh Karthik, head of thought leadership at the National Indian Students and Alumni Union, commented: “The uncertainty caused by the review has been chaotic. We urge the government to accept the MAC’s findings.”

Amit Tiwari, president of the Indian National Students Association UK, welcomed the review, stating that it “emphasizes data over rhetoric.”

If accepted, the MAC’s recommendations will ensure the continuation of the graduate visa route, provide relief to international students, and safeguard the financial health of UK universities.

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