The Impact of the Graduate Route Visa

Beyond Academia: The Impact of the Graduate Route Visa on International Students and UK Prosperity

​​International students in the UK have been a point of contention for some time now, with many appreciating the value that they bring to the economy and society, and others attributing the lack of limitation on international students arriving in the UK to negative effects of increasing migration and immigration numbers. Regardless of civilian opinions, student visas for international students play a crucial part in the UK Government’s plan for growth and are continuously under review to ensure that the Government is offering the most attractive options for brilliant young adults from around the world. ​​​

​​​​The Impact of the MAC's Rapid Review​​​​​

In March 2024, the Home Office commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to conduct a rapid review of the Graduate Route Visa, which was published on Tuesday 14 May. The rapid review has garnered significant interest within the education sector. Stakeholders have largely endorsed the MAC's findings, affirming that the visa effectively attracts international students and facilitates their integration into UK life, culture, and education. This positive reception from the sector underscores the general consensus that the current ​impact of the Graduate Route Visa​​​ is generally a good one. This suggests that the ​​​​​visa​ policy is performing as intended and should be maintained.

​​​​Assessing the Benefits and Overall Impact of the Graduate Route Visa​​​​​

As it stands, the current visa gives students permission to stay in the UK for at least 2 years after successfully completing a course in the UK, or 3 years for those with PhD or Doctoral degrees. This is enticing to students from around the world who may be looking to study elsewhere, and also remain in the country of their choice for professional opportunities following graduation. This policy has been seen in both positive and negative lights countrywide, but ultimately, post-Brexit, the UK Government has made significant efforts to remain competitive in attracting international students, recognising their substantial contributions to the economy, culture, and innovative sectors. International students not only enhance the diversity of towns and cities but also drive economic growth by infusing millions into the economy and strengthening the UK's position in the global competition for talent.

​​Recently, the Higher Education Policy Institute released a report which stated that there were an estimated 66,410 Graduate Route visa holders in the UK in the 2022/23 tax year. From these holders, the total net benefit to the UK Exchequer of hosting Graduate Route visa holders in the first full year of the scheme (2022/23) is estimated to be £70 million. This is a tremendous amount contributed to nourishing the UK economy, and a huge benefit to UK universities, many of which, according to a House of Lords Industry and Regulators Committee report, have become increasingly dependent on admitting international students to cover costs.​​​

​​​​Challenges and Concerns​​​​​

​​Despite these benefits, however, a recent report from the Home Office raises concerns, revealing that only a small fraction of students, about 4 percent, are motivated to study in the UK by the attraction of actually living in the UK. This indicates a potential flaw in the visa's ability to ensure long-term integration of international students and suggests that while the visa succeeds in short-term immersion, it does not sufficiently address or incentivise the transition of these students into the UK workforce post-graduation. ​​​

​​​​Overcoming Obstacles: Streamlining the Transition to Skilled Worker Status​​​​​

In an environment where students feel that their time is limited or temporary, it could be argued that they will not put as much of their efforts into their contributions to British society as they maybe would if offered the opportunity to remain long-term. Here, however, is where the Skilled Worker’s Visa comes in, which may be sponsored by a graduate’s employer after the two years are up from the Graduate Visa.  

The Skilled Worker’s Visa, as the Institute of Student Employers members highlighted, in the HEPI / Kaplan research stated, is not easily obtained, and the report recommended making the process easier for employers to switch employees from the Graduate to the Skilled Worker route visa, removing the immigration skills charge. 

​​Furthermore, many employers cannot afford to sponsor visas for recent graduates, and this paired with a competitive job market has led to many students feeling they have no option but to move back to their native country or move elsewhere, thereby stripping the country of potential long-term contributions to various sectors.​​​

​​Fostering Long-Term Opportunities for International Students​​​​​

An environment where career-oriented students feel their opportunities for growth will be cut short or lost is not one where success can be fostered, and the Government’s efforts to encourage growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship will be wasted on a mere few years of excellence and potential for recent graduates, where there could be opportunity for a lifetime of professional brilliance.

​​​​The Government, therefore, stands at a pivotal juncture. ​To maintain its leadership and competitive edge in the global market, the Government must not only continue to attract bright, ambitious students but also create pathways that encourage them to stay and contribute to the UK beyond their studies. The Government needs to focus on enhancing long-term opportunities for these students, ensuring that the benefits of studying in the UK extend beyond their educational experience and into their professional careers. By enhancing long-term opportunities for these students, the UK can ensure that the benefits of studying in the UK evolve into substantial contributions to the professional sectors. This holistic approach will not only benefit the students but also the UK as a whole, leveraging international talent for sustained cultural, economic, and educational enrichment.

​Read more of our research from our Dods policy experts, or find out more about our platform and packages. ​

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