Where the MAC report may have missed the mark

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As part of a five-point plan to reduce net migration figures, MAC was commissioned by the home secretary in March 2024 to rapidly review the situation regarding the UK’s Graduate Student Visa and deduce whether this route to legal entry into the UK was being abused by individuals who largely subsequently entered into low paying employment.

In 2023, 114,000 graduate student visas were granted, with an additional 30,000 visas granted to the dependents of these student visa holders. However, in ongoing efforts to quell immigration, various measures are being undertaken to deter the number of dependents accompanying foreign postgraduate students and academics to the UK. It creates a less welcoming environment for prospective immigrants within the higher education system which is detrimental to both the institutions and more broadly the UK economy.

An example of this can be seen in the high-profile case of Dr. Doseline Kiguru, a Kenyan expert in world literature, who was offered a permanent teaching position at the University of Bristol, only for her six-year-old daughter to be denied a visa to come with her.

The report concludes that the notion of the UK’s Graduate Student Visa being used as an easy access route into the country is a misconception, with over 91% of graduate visa holders completing a postgraduate taught course in 2023. It further finds that while graduates are currently over-represented in low paying jobs, this is temporary, and their career prospects and wages look set to significantly improve over time.

Statistics outlined in the report show that only half of graduate visa holders transition onto skilled work visas, but what it fails to deduce from this is a breakdown within the visa and immigration system resulting in there being no clear route to move from a Graduate Visa to a skilled work visa, thus preventing a great many international graduates from securing skilled work within the UK.

By failing to comment on this, the MAC report misses a key opportunity to explore and advise on the shortcomings of the pathway between the Graduate Visa and the Skilled Worker Visa in the UK. The framework intended to support the ease of transition between these visas is not sufficient to retain skilled graduates who have already begun contributing to the UK economy.

At Mauve Group, we are British-founded specialists in global mobility in the education sector, specialising in helping universities around the world.  As global solutions experts, we are seeing numerous UK universities establishing international hubs and partnerships to mitigate a 44% decline in international student applications – which are a key driver of their revenue.

Navigating overseas employment can be complex due to the need to comply with local employment laws and visa and immigration policies. Schemes that support the transfer from Graduate to Skilled worker visas would help achieve Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plan to establish the UK as a science and technology superpower and retain talented and skilled international students who are already contributing £41.9 billion to the economy, as found by a UK University report.

The framework intended to support the ease of transition between these visas is not sufficient to retain skilled graduates who have already begun contributing to the UK economy

In light of recent proposals to not only impose visa restrictions for international students’ dependants but also reduce their post-study work visa rights – and in addition to minimal pathways to ensure skilled international graduates remain in the UK – the country risks becoming an increasingly unattractive prospect for those seeking higher education, driving students to apply to competitor institutions overseas.

With experience navigating complex visa and immigration cases, particularly within the global education sector, we would argue that it was an oversight on the behalf of the Migration Advisory Committee not to recommend a more cohesive framework aimed at integrating the experience gained by graduate visa holders into the requirements for the skilled worker visa, therefore providing a clear and comprehensive pathway from one visa to the next.

This point has also been observed by Tim Hubbard, Head of East Asia Recruitment and Partnerships at the University of East Anglia.

Improving access to the Skilled Worker Visa in the UK for Graduate Visa holders is a critical issue for the future of the UK’s skilled workforce, ensuring that the UK does not drive international students towards rival educational institutions, remains a competitive destination for international talent, and ultimately fosters innovation and economic growth by supporting international talent and investing in the future of global knowledge sharing. With an election imminent, it remains to be seen if pathways will improve or if a new government will seek to actively recruit international students and academics, building and expanding upon the UK’s reputation as an educational trailblazer.

The post Where the MAC report may have missed the mark appeared first on The PIE News.

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