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No evidence of abuse but the future of the Graduate visa is still in doubt

No evidence of abuse but the future of the Graduate visa is still in doubt

Home Secretary James Cleverly has set his sights on international graduates in his ambition to reduce immigration to the UK. The current Graduate visa allows international students to obtain a two-year work visa once they have successfully completed their studies. The UK Government has indicated it may seek to end this route.

Earlier this year, the UK Government asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the Graduate visa route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse. This eagerly awaited report on the Graduate route has now been published. The Migration Advisory Committee's findings were clear: the Graduate visa route is “broadly achieving its objectives.” They recommend that no change should be made to this visa route. 

The Migration Advisory Committee reports that the Home Office’s own data does not suggest concerns about abuse of the Graduate route, saying:“Evidence from UKVI, alongside insights gathered through our roundtables, indicates that levels of abuse on the Graduate route are very low.” 

These findings will be welcomed by universities who have strongly refuted claims that the Graduate visa is being abused, but it may be too late to have an impact on future international student numbers. Evidence suggests that potential students have already turned away from the UK to explore higher education options in more welcoming countries. As reported in the Financial Times, there are already signs that international student recruitment has taken a hit. Enroly, a university enrolment platform commonly used by international students has reported a 57% decline in deposits to 24 UK universities it sampled.  It said this change suggests “a significant drop in the UK’s attractiveness as a study destination”. 

This uncertainty over the Graduate visa comes soon after major changes to the Student visa, most notably a ban on students bringing dependent family members to the UK. The UK Council for International Student Affairs has warned that this policy “will mean that [potential international students] choose to study elsewhere.

Our specialist immigration team has frequently seen that the Graduate visa is a useful stepping stone for students that wish to stay in the UK to work but haven’t yet secured a job offer, as there is no need to be sponsored by an organisation or employer. Those who do want to work can do so at any skill level and for any salary. 

Graduate visa holders can stay in the UK for up to two years, or three if they have completed a PhD. The flexibility of this route is beneficial for employees and employers alike. As there is no skill requirement for the job offered, employers can hire Graduates into entry level roles that would otherwise be excluded from the Skilled Worker route. 

Moreover, businesses can hire a Graduate without first incurring the time and expense of applying for a sponsorship licence if they do not already have one. Some businesses may feel this is too significant an investment to embark on when hiring a new employee. Additionally, some employers may not be able to afford to pay the new skilled worker salary thresholds, but wish to take the person on, the Graduate visa allows them to do so.

For Graduates at the start of their career, they may prefer not to be tied down to a three- or five-year contract, as they would be under the Skilled Worker route. Where a business does wish to continue a Graduate’s employment beyond the expiry of their visa, the employee can switch to the Skilled Worker route from within the UK, so long as the employer obtains a sponsor licence and can pay a salary which meets the new salary thresholds. Graduate visa holders when they switch to Skilled Worker visa route are eligible for the “new entrant” discount to the salary threshold but only for a maximum of four years including time spent on a Graduate visa. 

This positive view of the Graduate visa is reflected in the Migration Advisory Committee findings that, Among the first cohort of Graduate visa holders, around half moved on to Skilled Worker visas, primarily into skilled roles. Graduate visa holders who move into the Skilled Worker route have earnings and work in occupations which are comparable to domestic UK graduates. We expect the impact on public finances of Graduate visa holders on the route to be small but positive, as most appear to work, are young and have no recourse to public funds.”

In spite of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on the clear benefits of the route to talented individuals, UK universities and businesses, the UK Government’s response to the report has been negative.  On 14 May 2024, the Financial Times reported that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman had insisted that ministers are not obliged to accept recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee, and had further stated:-

“British students should be the priority for our education system and universities and student visas must be used for education, not immigration.”

At Thorntons, with three specialist immigration lawyers on the team, including a Law Society of Scotland Accredited Immigration Specialist, we can act quickly on your behalf in relation to questions about the Graduate visa route for applications and employers and apply our experience to help you with all areas of Immigration Law. If you have a query or seek advice, please contact our specialist Immigration team on 03330 430350.

About the author

Louise Crichton
Louise Crichton

Louise Crichton


Immigration & Visas

For more information, contact Louise Crichton or any member of the Immigration & Visas team on 0141 483 9020.