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Graduate visa needs stability: new report from all-party group of MPs and Peers

A new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Students calls on the UK Government to publicly commit to maintaining the Graduate visa.

The publication of the report, The Graduate Visa: An Effective Post-Study Pathway for International Students in the UK?, concludes an Inquiry into the effectiveness of the Graduate visa, two years since the launch of the route.

The report makes 10 recommendations, including practical ways to improve the effectiveness of the Graduate visa and the steps necessary to ensure its continued success. As well as seeking reassurance from the Government on the future of the route, the report recommends that universities and colleges develop a national employability strategy to address the unique employment challenges faced by international graduates.

The Graduate visa grants permission for international students who have studied at degree level to stay in the UK for two years after completing their course (three years for PhD students).

Uptake of the Graduate visa has been strong since its introduction on 1 July 2021, with a growing number of international students choosing this route to remain in the UK to take up employment opportunities.

However, the UK Government’s policy approach to reduce overall net migration – with international students included in migration figures, despite being temporary migrants – is raising concerns about the UK’s global standing as a study destination and the stability of the Graduate visa.

Changes announced in May 2023 prohibiting postgraduate taught students from bringing dependents to the UK, along with existing restrictions for undergraduate students, have created inequitable access to the visa and are damaging overall confidence in the route.     

Paul Blomfield MP, Co-Chair of the APPG for International Students, said:

“It is crucial for the Government to address these concerns and take decisive action to support international students, enhance the Graduate visa, and reinforce the UK’s position as a global leader in education and innovation.”

Lord Bilimoria, Co-Chair of the APPG for International Students, added:

“International students have long been ambassadors for our universities, colleges and communities. There is so much more they can contribute to every corner of the UK, if we have the collective ambition to make it so.

“The Graduate visa has been central to the success of the International Education Strategy. Our principal recommendation is to provide reassurance on its future. If universities, colleges, and employers know the Graduate visa is here to stay, the potential for international graduates to open global doors to UK business is exponential.”

In the first year alone, a total of 12,484 visa extensions were granted under the route, with the majority of applications processed between July and September 2021. By the end of March 2023, this had increased to 92,951 successful applications. Indian, Chinese, and Nigerian students emerged as the top three nationalities progressing on to the Graduate visa, accounting for nearly 63% of all accepted applications.

As part of the Inquiry, a comparison of post-study work rights was compiled to assess the global competitiveness of the Graduate visa alongside the opportunities offered to international students by the USA, Australia, Canada and Germany.

Simon Emmett of IDP Education, said:

“The UK’s position as a preferred study destination is at risk. As other countries are enhancing their post-study work rights for international graduates, the UK’s share as a top study destination has declined. Perceptions of the UK’s post-study work policies have also deteriorated.”

“This is an important reminder for the Government, signalling the need to review the global competitiveness of the Graduate visa. The UK must not fall behind other nations in attracting and retaining top talent and diversifying the international student body.”

The Inquiry heard evidence from sector experts and students at two roundtable sessions and reviewed available research and literature evaluating the Graduate visa since its launch in 2021.

The report’s 10 recommendations are:

Recommendations for Government

1.     Government must publicly commit to maintaining the Graduate visa into the next Parliament.

2.     Government should commit to regular reviews of the global competitiveness and effectiveness of the Graduate visa as part of the annual review of the International Education Strategy.

3.     Government should ensure students don’t lose leave as they transition between Student and Graduate visas, and permit leave extensions for students registered on professional accreditation or extended graduate programmes.

4.     As part of their ambitions to grow higher technical education, the Department for Education should consider the role international students could play in addressing skills shortages and supporting local colleges.

5.     Government should maintain other routes for post-study work to provide choice and facilitate different outcomes. Clarification and simplification of the ways to switch routes will be key

Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions

6.     A clear national strategy should be developed to address the unique employment challenges faced by international graduates and support the effectiveness of the Graduate visa.

7.    Higher education providers should play a proactive liaison role between students and local employers.

Recommendations for cooperation

8.     Government and the higher education sector must collaborate to endorse the Graduate visa and communicate it effectively to students and employers.

9.     A UK-wide international education data strategy should be developed jointly between Government, education institutions and stakeholder bodies, including evaluation of the impact of the Graduate visa across the student journey, and the economic and soft power contribution of international graduates.

10.  Institutions and employers should work together to mitigate the costs of the Graduate visa for students from lower and middle income backgrounds.