Migration Advisory Committee report could lead to further tightening of rules for international students.
The UK’s system of post-study work visas is likely to be fuelling low-wage migration rather than drawing “global talent” into high-skilled jobs, according to the committee tasked with reviewing the scheme.
In a report published this week, the independent Migration Advisory Committee said the introduction of the graduate route, which allows international students and their dependants to work in the UK for two years after graduation, had made the UK a “significantly more attractive destination” for those who wanted to enter its labour market.
Even before its introduction in 2021, many international masters students worked in low-wage roles in their first year after graduation, and earned little more after five years, the MAC said. Since then, a surge in international student numbers has been driven by enrolment at less selective, low-cost universities and the MAC believes there is “strong evidence” that the graduate visa is boosting the number of students who aim to stay in the UK longer term. “The most likely outcome is that their performance in the labour market will be weaker than previous cohorts . . . we expect that at least a significant fraction of the graduate route will comprise low-wage workers,” the committee concluded. The committee’s analysis will fuel fears among university leaders that they could soon face a further narrowing of visa routes for international students, as Rishi Sunak seeks to quell a rebellion by rightwing Tory MPs over record net migration. A surge in students coming to the UK has driven the recent rise in international arrivals, with more than 620,000 student visas issued in 2022, and a growing proportion bringing family and staying for longer. UK universities have become increasingly reliant on higher-paying international students to fund teaching and research, with international fees now accounting for nearly 20 per cent of their income. They fear that new curbs on masters students bringing family to the UK will hit their international recruitment. Last week, home secretary James Cleverly said he had asked the MAC to review the graduate visa route as part of a package of measures to cut immigration. The aim was to “protect the integrity and quality” of the higher education sector”, Cleverly told MPs, adding that the policy “needs to work in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high-quality jobs for the global talent pool, but reducing opportunities for abuse”.
An executive of the sectoral body Universities UK, said the graduate route had played a vital role in attracting international students to the UK, with each cohort generating £42bn a year in economic benefits. She added the funds from international students were essential to UK universities facing increasingly acute funding pressures as inflation eroded the value of the annual £9,250 tuition fees paid by UK students. “What students and universities now need is stability and certainty. Government must continue to reassure prospective international students that the UK remains open, and that the Graduate route is here to stay,” she said. But the committee’s report suggests it questions the scheme’s benefits — even though its chair, Brian Bell, said international students in general brought “a clear economic benefit to the UK”.
Barrister MD Iqbal Hussain,a well known barrister form East London told to daily dazzling dawn today The last thing the government should be doing is damaging confidence in the UK higher education offering by commencing a review of the post-study work Graduate Route. The irony is that the [UK] Graduate Route is particularly valued by those international students who disproportionately go to universities in levelling up areas of the UK, so any review outcome that ends up reducing the Graduate Route offer will inevitably have a direct negative economic impact on those areas of the country that the government is so keen to level up, not down,” he said
However UK’s post-study visa not attracting skilled workers. Many international students who stay in the country using two-year graduate route end up in low wage jobs, finds key government body.
Over 100,000 people were issued visas for the graduate route in the year ending September 2023.For international students, securing a job in the UK can be more challenging due to a lack of understanding about the graduate route. Research from the Higher Education Policy Institute released earlier this year found only 3% of employers had used the route and more than half weren’t aware of its existence.
The government has also announced a review of the graduate route, set to be delivered in September 2024, focused on preventing “abuse” of the visa.
There are concerns that the new policies will undermine efforts to educate businesses about employing international graduates.