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MAC to carry out rapid review of Graduate route by 14 May 2024

15 March 2024

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has been commissioned to make a rapid review of the Graduate route, with its report due to be published by 14 May 2024. Employers should plan for potential restrictions to this route or its abolition.

The Home Secretary published his commissioning letter to the MAC on 12 March 2024.
The review forms part of the Government’s five-point plan to lower net migration, which suggests the Home Office may look for policy options to restrict the route or close it entirely.

What is the Graduate route?

The Graduate route launched on 1 July 2021. It allows Student visa holders completing an undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral degree in the UK to stay in the UK for three years post-graduation in the case of PhD students, or for two years in all other cases. The route is unsponsored has generous work rights, only excluding work as a professional sportsperson.

Why is the Graduate route being reviewed?

The Government is keen to understand whether the Graduate route is meeting its intended objectives, which include:

  • Attracting and retaining the best and brightest international students;
  • Supporting excellence in UK higher education;
  • Contributing to meeting the UK’s education exports target; and
  • Helping businesses to recruit highly qualified international talent.

The commissioning letter refers to possible concerns having arisen in the following areas:

  • The creation of a demand for degrees, and in particular shorter-term Masters degrees, driven by the work opportunity of the Graduate route (both for the main applicant and any permitted partner dependant) rather than the value of the educational qualification; and
  • Graduate route migrants subsequently switching into the Skilled Worker route for jobs below graduate level, with the majority being sponsored as carers.

What does the commissioning letter say about the Skilled Worker new entrant criteria?

The letter confirms that there will still be a new entrant points option, with a discounted general salary threshold, but that this will significantly increase from the current threshold. Further details on the new entrant general salary threshold and going rate salary discount are due to be published on 14 March 2024.

What is the scope of the MAC’s rapid review?

The MAC has been asked to work with Sir Steve Smith, the Government’s International Education Champion, to gather evidence and provide analysis that may include:

  • Any evidence of abuse of the route, including it not being fit for purpose;
  • Who is using the route and which universities they graduated from;
  • Demographics and trends for students who access the UK labour market using the Graduate route;
  • Identifying the activities carried out by Graduate route users, both during their time on that route and afterwards, and analysing whether they are contributing to the economy; and
  • An investigation of whether the Graduate route is undermining or supporting the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system in the context of the Government’s wider International Education Strategy and broader Government economic and soft power objectives.

How has the MAC responded to the commission?

The MAC has accepted the commission and noted the following:

  • The quality and quantity of evidence they can provide in response to the commission will be substantially limited due to the short timeframe they have been asked to produce their report within; and
  • The MAC will not be able to conduct a Call for Evidence from stakeholders.

To assist with answering the questions posed by the Home Secretary, the MAC has asked the Home Office to provide the following data on Graduate route migrants by 26 March 2024:

  • Home Office data on all Graduate route participants since the route opened, linked to the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies from their Student permission;
  • Home Office data on all Graduate route participants since the route opened, linked to any visas they have since moved onto, including employment information where relevant; and
  • Home Office visa data linked to HMRC records, to enable the MAC to analyse whether Graduate route participants are in work, and what types of role they are occupying.

The publication of the MAC’s report will be delayed if the information is not provided by the deadline indicated.

What are the next steps after the rapid review report is published?

After the report is published, Home Office will consider the MAC’s findings and make changes to the Immigration Rules for the Graduate route.

Since concerns have been raised about whether the route is meeting its intended objectives and the Government is more broadly seeking ways to reduce net migration, it would seem likely that the Rules changes may place additional restrictions on the use of the route (potentially limiting it to graduates from specific institutions for example). The route could also be abolished entirely, as happened with the previous Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) route.

The report has been requested for delivery on a short time-frame, which would suggest the Home Office may bring forward changes in the second half of 2024, perhaps either mid-year or in the Autumn Immigration Rules update.

What are the implications of the review for employers?

Depending on the nature of the resulting Immigration Rules changes, it may be the case that employers will have more restricted access to Graduate route workers, and potentially no access in the future if the route is abolished. Talent pipelines may need to be reviewed to consider whether it is desirable and feasible to sponsor Student route workers directly after graduation.

We will provide a further update once the MAC’s review has been published. If you have any queries about this topic, please contact a member of our Immigration Team.

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