Migration Advisory Committee Recommends Retaining Graduate Route

Lewis Silkin


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The MAC published its review of the Graduate route on 14 May 2024. The Home Secretary commissioned the work in March 2024, as part of its five-point plan to lower net migration.
UK Immigration
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In its rapid review, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended retaining the Graduate route in its current form. The Home Office will now consider the report and whether to accept its recommendations.

The MAC published its review of the Graduate route on 14 May 2024. The Home Secretary commissioned the work in March 2024, as part of its five-point plan to lower net migration.

Although the commissioning letter identified fears of abuse of the route, the MAC has found no significant evidence of non-compliance with immigration rules.

What are the MAC's recommendations?

The MAC has made the following recommendations:

  • That the Graduate route is retained in its current form, because it is broadly achieving Home Office objectives and the International Education Strategy;
  • That the Government only opens new immigration routes or makes significant policy changes when it has a clear plan to collect and monitor data to assess the route's effectiveness against its objectives and what the wider impacts of the policy are;
  • That universities must provide the Home Office with data on the class of degree awarded to Student route participants, in addition to meeting the current requirement of confirming successful course completion – this would also identify how many Students have completed but failed their course;
  • That a mandatory registration system is established for international recruitment agents and sub-agents, to minimise the risk of students being exploited;
  • That universities must publish annual data on how much they spend on recruitment agents and how many students are recruited through them;
  • That the Home Office reviews the data variables it uses for analytical purposes across the UK's largest visa routes (including the Skilled Worker, Student and Graduate routes) to better define what the data represents and the quality of the collected variables; and
  • That the Government explores and makes further use of the data matched between the Home Office and HMRC.

The MAC's report also contains an important correction to the Home Secretary's commissioning letter, which erroneously suggested that only 23% of individuals switching from the Graduate route went into graduate level jobs, with the majority taking up care work.

Corrected data provided by the Home Office to the MAC indicates that 69% of Graduate route participants who switch into the Skilled Worker route take up a graduate level job, with 20% taking up care work. Graduate level jobs are taken up in roughly the same proportion as for domestic graduates (69% versus 75%). The higher percentage moving into care work (20% versus 6%) is thought to be attributable to a segment of international graduates prioritising settlement over short-to medium term career progression.

Additional restrictions to the Graduate route would risk 'overcorrection'

Students on taught Masters' programmes have not been allowed to be accompanied by dependants since January 2024. The MAC observes that this change has already significantly reduced recruitment to the Student route and in turn will lower the number of people eligible to join the Graduate route. For example, the reduction in deposits paid by international postgraduate students may be around 63% for the September 2024 intake in comparison to the September 2023 intake.

In the MAC's view, any further restrictions to the Graduate route may result in the Government failing to reach the international student recruitment target set out in its International Education Strategy and would deepen the financial difficulties experienced by underfunded universities across the UK. The MAC considers that a more restrictive policy would lead to job losses, course closures and a reduction in research. The outright failure of institutions is considered possible in the most extreme scenario.

What are the next steps?

The Home Office will now review the recommendations and respond. It is impossible to predict whether these will be accepted in full or in part. This is because the Government's current immigration policy is to reduce net migration, and it may consider this objective politically important enough to justify the damage to university revenues and operations.

As this MAC commission was for a 'rapid review' of the Graduate route, it is possible the MAC may be commissioned to carry out a full review including a call for evidence from stakeholders and more robust data analysis. Since the rapid review has not resulted in recommendations that would significantly advance a net migration reduction policy in this area, it would seem less likely the Government will prioritise this ahead of the general election.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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