Post-Study Visa Route Dominated by Indians Should Stay, Finds UK Review

The review found that Indian students lead the pack in this visa category. (Representational)

London:

A post-study visa route dominated by Indian graduates is helping the universities in the UK make up for financial losses on the domestic front and expanding the country’s research landscape, a review commissioned by the British government concluded in its report on Tuesday.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) had been tasked by UK Home Secretary James Cleverly to undertake a rapid review of the relatively new Graduate Route visa that allows international students to stay on for up to two years after their degree to look for work and gain work experience.

It found that Indian students lead the pack in this visa category, accounting for 89,200 visas between 2021 and 2023 or 42 per cent of the overall grants, and the visa was stated as the “overwhelming decision point” for their choice of a higher education destination.

“Our review recommends the Graduate Route should remain as it is and is not undermining the quality and integrity of the UK’s higher education system,” said MAC Chair Professor Brian Bell.

“The Graduate Route is a key part of the offer that we make to international students to come and study in the UK. The fees that these students pay helps universities to cover the losses they make in teaching British students and doing research. Without those students, many universities would need to shrink and less research would be done,” he added.

Asked if a change to this post-study offer would significantly impact the Indian student numbers to the UK, Bell said “that’s almost certainly the case”.

“Our evidence suggests that it’s the Indian students that will be most affected by any restriction on the Graduate Route,” he told PTI.

Bell’s review goes on to highlight the “complex interaction” between immigration policy and higher education policy as it tables a series of recommendations for the government including a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents whose “poor practices” may be mis-selling UK higher education and better data collection as well as making it a requirement for universities to confirm the course outcome for the international students they enroll.

UK-based Indian student groups, who gave evidence to the MAC review, had feared an unfair crackdown on this post-study offer that is seen as crucial to the students from India choosing universities in the UK over other destinations.

“We spent a fair bit of time explaining the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘work experience’ – 70 per cent of Indian students have told us that the number one driver of what makes them choose between ultimately Australia or Canada or UK or America is the ability to gain that work experience for a couple of years,” said Sanam Arora, Chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK.

“We are very pleased also that our concerns around mis-selling of education by unscrupulous agents has been considered and corrective recommendations have been made,” she said.

The Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK welcomed the report’s emphasis on “data over rhetoric” and the light it has shed on the “current sad state of international recruitment practices”.

“The document clearly illustrates how international fees help UK universities stay afloat as well as how the Graduate visa makes studying in the UK more attractive,” said INSA UK President Amit Tiwari.

The government usually takes MAC’s conclusions on board when deciding on migration policy, but diaspora groups fear the UK’s post-study offer may yet face some restrictions.

“The Graduate Route is crucial for international students, offering them the chance to apply their skills in the UK job market. The uncertainty caused by the review has been chaotic. We urge the government to accept the MAC’s findings and ensure the Graduate Route remains a stable and permanent fixture in the UK’s immigration system,” added Vignesh Karthik, Head of Thought Leadership at NISAU UK.

The Home Office said it is considering the review’s findings “very closely” and will respond fully in due course.

“We are committed to attracting the best and brightest to study at our world-class universities, whilst preventing abuse of our immigration system, which is why the Home Secretary commissioned an independent review of the Graduate Route,” a UK government spokesperson said.

Among the other findings of the ‘Rapid Review of the Graduate Route’ report, the majority of those on the visa route completed post-graduate taught courses and the growth in numbers comes largely from the second-tier institutions, or UK universities outside the Russell Group, which account for 66 per cent of all Graduate Route visas.

The age profile of those on the Graduate Route involved those aged over 25 increasing by approximately 15 percentage points to 54 per cent latest. However, this is likely to be affected by the Home Office’s recent crackdown on international students being able to sponsor family dependents on their visa.

“Under the current funding models for higher education across the UK, the Graduate Route is helping universities to expand the range of courses offered while making up for financial losses on domestic students and research and is supporting the government’s International Education Strategy,” the review concludes.

The MAC also found that Graduate Route visa holders are initially overrepresented in lower-paid work, with their outcomes, including wages improving over time as they move on to Skilled Worker visas. Besides Indians, the other nationalities leading the tally include Nigerians, Chinese and Pakistanis.

With immigration, both legal and illegal, a priority issue ahead of a general election expected later this year, the government said it wanted to ensure those utilising this visa route contributed to the UK economy.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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