UK government calls for graduate visa review

18 Mar 2024

The UK’s home secretary, James Cleverly, said this week that international students could be “undermining the integrity and quality of the UK higher education system” with the use of uni courses as a way to acquire a work visa. Within a letter to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), Cleverly requested an investigation into whether the graduate visa entitlement, which permits international students to work after graduating for two or three years, was not attracting “the brightest and the best” to the UK.

However, university administrators are concerned that any reduction or limitation of the graduate visa route could result in a significant decline in international student enrolment, potentially triggering a financial crisis for universities heavily dependent on revenue from international tuition fees. The home secretary said to the MAC that although the government was committed to attracting “talented students from around the world to study in the UK”, it also wanted “to ensure the graduate route is not being abused. In particular, that some of the demand for study visas is not being driven more by a desire for immigration”.

Cleverly went on to add: “An international student can spend relatively little on fees for a one-year course and gain access to two years with no job requirement on the graduate route, followed by four years’ access to a discounted salary threshold on the skilled worker route.

“This means international graduates are able to access the UK labour market with salaries significantly below the requirement imposed on the majority of migrant skilled workers.”

The letter to the Migration Advisory Committee

The home secretary asked the committee, which provides impartial advice to the government, to examine “any evidence of abuse” of the graduate route, “including the route not being fit for purpose,” and determine which universities had grads using the route.

In addition, Cleverly wants the committee to look at whether the graduate route is eroding the integrity and standards of the UK higher education system, which involves assessing how effectively it ensures the quality of international students and whether it genuinely facilitates the attraction and retention of top-tier talent, thereby fostering economic development and enhancing British higher education.

Thoughts on the government’s investigation request

According to the chief executive of the MillionPlus group of universities, Rachel Hewitt, the review looks to have a deliberate intent to undermine the achievements of British higher education. “It is impossible to imagine the government going out of its way to make Britain less inviting to investment in almost any other sector – and yet every negative headline and policy reform makes Britain less attractive to international students,” Hewitt said. “The graduate route is a key component of the offer that UK universities can make to international applicants, and its value should be recognised and not eroded.”


The home secretary added that according to “early data,” just 23% of international students using the skilled workers route moved into a grad-level job. Additionally, in 2023, just a third found employment paying more than £26,000 a year, The Guardian reports.

The committee is anticipated to deliver its report in May, a period that could prove challenging for the higher education sector. So far in 2024, overseas enrolments have declined by 40% compared to 2023.