UK Graduate Visas: The MAC Report

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What is the graduate visa route?

The Graduate visa route is an essential transitional route for students to transition from study into the start of their career path. In the absence of this visa, it is very difficult for students to remain in the UK after graduating. This difficulty has been elevated by the increase in the minimum salary levels for sponsorship in April.

Back in March out of apparent concerns that the Graduate route was being ‘abused’ (although it was never clear on what basis), the Home Office commissioned the MAC to conduct a ‘rapid review’ of the route, to determine (amongst other things) if there was any evidence of abuse and whether the route is still fit for purpose.

In the short timescale for the review, the MAC commissioned 40 interviews with Graduate visa holders, considered internal comparisons, engaged with stakeholders in the higher education sectors and undertook statistical analysis.

What was found?

A key finding of the MAC’s report is that it recommends retaining the existing Graduate visa route, on the basis that the route has achieved the objectives set by the government outlined in its International Education Strategy. The Strategy launched in 2019 sought to boost the UK’s education exports to £35 billion per year and set a target of 600,000 international students studying in the UK by 2030.

The report found that there is little evidence of widespread abuse of the Graduate route or that the visa is undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system.

What was recommended?

Within the report, concerns were raised by the MAC about recruitment agents used by higher education institutions providing misleading information to prospective international students, including miss selling UK higher education and exploiting students. As a result, a recommendation was made by the MAC that the government considers mandatory requirements on agents going forward rather than a voluntary framework in this context.

The MAC also commented that student numbers are decreasing in general since the Home Office removed the option for students to bring dependants to the UK. This naturally will see a decrease in the number of Graduate visas being issue going forward (which is at odds with the principles behind the International Education Strategy), and in turn is likely to impact the financial solvency of UK higher education institutions. The MAC report urges the government to carefully consider the wider impacts before making wholesale sweeping changes to immigration routes to drive down net migration numbers.

Despite this, with findings to retain the Graduate route in its current form and little evidence of the route being abused, the report can be regarded as positive for employers, graduates and the university sectors.

The Home Office response

The Home Office has done its own analysis of the Graduate route intending to ‘complement’ the MAC review. The Home Office report (also released on 14 May 2024) has identified that the route has led to more people staying in the UK after their studies have ended, as you would expect. The analysis also shows the sectors graduates are likely to work in with health and social care being the second most popular sector.

Whilst the Home Office has indicated that it will retain the Graduate Visa Route, on 24 May 2024 it announced a new proposal to crack down on the ‘abuse’ of the student visa route. These proposals include:

  • Establishing a mandatory registration scheme for agents
  • Compelling universities to publish information on the extent to which they use internal recruitment agents and the number of internal students recruited and
  • Introducing a requirement for universities to provide the Home Office with a confirmation of course outcome on the Student route.

The Home Office has also announced other proposals which will impact the student route, including raising financial requirements for students, reviewing English language standards and reviewing compliance assessments for student sponsors.

With the announcement of the General Election, it will remain to be seen whether these latest proposals will become implemented.

For more information on the MAC report or other immigration queries, contact our dedicated and experienced immigration team here.