The highly anticipated report of the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) rapid review into the UK’s Graduate Route visa has concluded that the UK’s Graduate Route should remain in its current form after the Committee found “no evidence” it was being widely abused.

UK Home Secretary James Cleverly ordered the MAC review into the Graduate Route visa in March this year in response to pressure to reduce migration and ensure the Graduate Route was not being used for immigration rather than education. However, the MAC report stresses that the Committee “found no evidence of any significant abuse of the Graduate Route” in terms of “deliberate noncompliance with immigration rules.”  

Instead, the MAC report raises “concerns about potential exploitation” of both student and graduate visa holders due to poor practices by some education agents who have “mis-sold courses or universities” to students. However, the MAC notes that this is “a separate issue”. The MAC report recommends that the government should create a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and subagents. Additionally, universities should be obligated to disclose the amount of money they spend on recruitment agents and the annual number of international students recruited through these channels.

The MAC predicts that Graduate Route visa applications are likely to fall significantly in future in any case, given the earlier decision by the government to prohibit postgraduate student visa holders from bringing dependents with them to the UK. The report notes that “early indications suggest a 63% reduction in the number of deposits paid for the September 2024 intake by international postgraduate applicants for institutions in the UK compared to the same time in the previous year.” This is likely to be a significant blow for universities who reported a decline in postgraduate taught student enrolments of around 40% in the January 2024 intake following the introduction of the dependent ban.

The next step in the process is for the government to respond and say whether it agrees with the MAC’s recommendation not to leave the Graduate Route in its current form. Leaders across the higher education sector have welcomed the review’s findings and urged the government to the review’s recommendations.

However, the Financial Times reports that the Prime Minister is considering “going further by adapting the current graduate scheme so that visas are only offered to the “best and the brightest”, and that new measures could be announced as early as next week. However, business leaders have written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, urging caution in responding to the Graduate Route review.

In a letter from the National Centre for Universities and Businesses senior executives of EDF Energy, Anglo American, Severn Trent, Rio Tinto, Neptune Energy, Thales and Siemens, said the group was “deeply concerned by reports of growing research and teaching funding gaps, as well as sharp declines in international student applications as a result of government policy.” The group warned that changes to the Graduate Route visas “not only risks undermining the positive impact that international students have on our skills base, future workforce, and international influence but also reduces the funding that universities have available for their wider activities, including research and collaboration with industry.”