UK review of graduate visa route cause for worry among Indian students


A rapid review of the UK government’s graduate route, which allows foreign students to stay unsponsored in the UK for two years after graduating, or three years for PhD students, is currently being carried out by the migration advisory committee (MAC) with a report due to be published by May 14, 2024.
The graduate route, which was launched in July 2021 as part of the UK government’s international education strategy to attract international students, has helped add more than 600,000 international students and over €60 billion to the UK economy between 2019-20 and 2023-24, according to Universities UK, an organisation that represents universities across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
And not surprisingly, the rapid review, which has been commissioned by the UK government is cause for worry for Indian students already in the UK and those planning to go there later this year.
“We have already seen a significant impact on Indian students arising out of the changes in rules around dependents and uncertainty caused by the review of the graduate route. The January intake this year has seen a very significant drop of around 40% which has caused a huge amount of concern in the UK higher education sector and we have heard at the India UK Education Conference held in London last month on just how worried the sector is about the future of UK-India relations if the graduate route gets taken away,” Sanam Arora, chairperson of National Indian Students and Alumni Union (Nisau), an apex UK organisation representing students, alumni, and young professionals of Indian origin, told the Times of India.
Many higher education experts in the UK believe that when the MAC presents its review to the UK Home Office in May 2024, it is likely that the graduate route will be stopped.
“It is still speculative but what we are hearing and fearing is that the sheer uncertainty is making students from India look at other countries. I expect further drop in the numbers of students choosing to come to the UK in 2024 and even 2025. And if the graduate route gets taken away or made less attractive, then I think we will see a major fall in numbers,” Arora said.
While a fall in the number of Indian students choosing to go to the UK may be partially mitigated by the restrictions that other countries such as Canada are putting in place; but it is not looking great for the UK and it is not a good outcome for Indian students who want to access both the world class education that British universities provide with real world work experience, Arora feels.
Research by Nisau, which had earlier run a successful campaign that saw the post study work visa being brought back to the UK, shows that for 70% of Indian students a post study work visa is the number one driver determining their choice of study destination.
They value the ability to gain some practical work experience for a few years that can then also allow them to pay back some of the expensive loans many undertake to pay for an expensive international education.
“Indian students value not just academics but also real-world employability outcomes. If the UK wants the best and brightest to come from India, it must ensure its offer to them remains attractive – the graduate route must stay and efforts must be strongly undertaken to match the demand of labour, where many areas have shortages, to the supply of British qualified international graduates,” Arora said.
Nisau is calling on the UK government to remove international students from the net migration targets. “Students stay in the country for a temporary period for a defined objective of studying; and therefore, should not be classed as ‘immigrants’. Doing so will mean that we are more accurately reporting on immigration numbers and stop blaming international students for issues they have not caused,” Arora said.
Nisau has recently announced two partnerships to address the biggest concerns facing Indian students in the UK – employability and housing. The strategic partnerships with two organisations – Leap and University Living – will create an India UK employability hub to tackle the urgent employability challenges confronting Indian students in the UK while accommodation support will help in finding safe and comfortable housing which is one of the major concerns students face when they land in the UK.


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