MAC advises keeping UK Graduate Route

16 May 2024

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended keeping the UK’s graduate route unchanged, contrary to forecasts, a positive outcome for the UK’s international education sector. This news will provide reassurance to those working with international students regarding their study destination options overseas. The government will now need to respond to the findings, but the MAC report is clear in its view that the graduate route serves the purpose for which it was developed.

The MAC highlighted the recent change to the rule banning student dependants, implemented in January 2024, as “in effect a restriction” that has already had a negative impact on student demand. Additionally, the subsequent amendments to salary thresholds for skilled worker routes accessible after the two-year graduate route are also expected to reduce demand.

Universities UK

Chief executive of Universities UK, Vivienne Stern said of the decision: “The MAC’s recommendation that the Graduate route should remain on its current terms is extremely important and welcome. The uncertainty caused by the decision to review the visa has been toxic. We hope and expect that government now listens to the advice they have been given and provides categorical reassurance that the Graduate visa is here to stay.” She added: “We understand the political pressure to reduce migration but, as the report makes clear, changes introduced earlier this year to prevent postgraduate taught students bringing dependants have already had a very significant effect.”

The MAC report

Should the government make significant restrictions to the Graduate Route, “it should only do so once the full impact of the change to the dependants rules on the student route and therefore the graduate route can be seen and once it has addressed the current HE funding model which is driving the dependence on international student fees,” the report states. “The Graduate Route was introduced to enhance the offer to international students who choose, or are considering choosing, to study in the UK. The Graduate Route has broadly achieved, and continues to achieve, the objectives set by this government.”

Furthermore, the MAC review acknowledges the benefit of international graduates as a potential pool of underutilised labour and encourages greater collaboration between the government and the higher education sector to support the government's desired labour market objectives for the route.

Student recruitment company, SI-UK, welcomed the news. CEO Rob Grimshaw stated: “There is global competition for talent and the UK is fortunate that ambitious students from all over the world consider the UK as a study destination each year. If they come the UK stands benefit greatly from their skills and long-term soft power effects,” he said. “As one of the largest providers in the sector, SI has always believed the focus on quality is important. We are very supportive of the goals of the AQF framework.”

Whereas the CEO of Oxford International Education Group, Lil Bremermann-Richard, said to The PIE: “The outcome of the MAC Review is resounding: the graduate route is effective, displays no evidence of deliberate abuse and should stay in place in its current form.”