UK Home Secretary, James Cleverly’s recent announcement of a package of measures aimed at reducing migration levels and curbing migration system abuse has raised fears in the higher education sector that the planned measures may damage the UK’s reputation as a study-abroad destination and impact international student numbers.
The planned measures include raising the minimum salary for workers to sponsor non-British family members from £26,200 to £38,700 and preventing healthcare workers from bringing dependents with them to the UK.
Earlier this year, the Home Office announced a new policy preventing postgraduate taught international students from bringing dependents to the UK from January 2024. This move is reported to have already impacted international student enrolments for September and January intakes.
The Home Office announcement does not mention plans to scrap the Graduate Visa route. Rather, it states that “The Migration Advisory Committee will be asked to review the Graduate visa route to ensure it works in the best interests of the UK and to ensure steps are being taken to prevent abuse.” However, there are concerns that the uncertainty around the visa alone may be enough to negatively impact the UK’s reputation as a welcoming destination of choice for international students.
The current Graduate Route visa, introduced in 2019 after being removed for a number of years, allows international students who have graduated from an approved provider to undertake two years of open post-study work or three years of post-study work rights for PhD students. It is seen as a critical part of the UK’s offer to international students and essential in terms of ensuring the UK remains competitive with destinations such as Australia which also offer attractive postgraduate work options.
Between 2012 and 2019, the UK experienced a significant decline in international student numbers. This was driven primarily by a sharp drop in the number of Indian students choosing to study in the UK after the post-study work visa was dropped. Numbers began to rebound again in 2020/21 when it was reintroduced to the point where Indian students are now the UK’s second-largest international student cohort.
There are indications that this is likely to be the case again if significant changes were to be made to the Graduate Route. The Pie News reports that a survey undertaken by FindAUniversity of over 8,000 graduate students found that “two-thirds of prospective applicants would be less likely to study in the UK if there was a change to the Graduate Route. The potential impact would be greatest for South Asian postgraduate taught students, covering almost 50% of the current market diversity”.