Urgent MAC request from UK Secretary James Cleverly March 2023

UK Graduate Route Review - March 2024

UK Home Secretary, James Cleverly sparks urgency for a rapid review of the Graduate Route by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

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The Home Secretary’s Request For An Urgent Review

Since the Home Secretary’s announcement of his infamous 5-point plan, set to bring about sweeping changes to certain immigration routes, a proposed review of the UK Graduate Route has been made. On 11 March 2024, a formal request to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to conduct a rapid review of the route was made by James Cleverly. MAC has been asked to report back by 14 May 2024.

Rationale Behind The Review Request

Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s diplomatic tone and recognition of the need to attract international students to UK universities and their contribution to the UK economy, the basis of his request relates to fears of a potential abuse of the immigration system. He refers, among other things, to previous concerns raised by MAC itself in 2018 and more recently in its annual report of 2023 regarding the possibility of an unrestricted right to work resulting in an increased demand for short-term, master’s degrees merely for the ultimate purpose of long-term immigration rather than education. He also states, and incorrectly so, that individuals can access a discounted salary threshold under the Skilled Worker route for up to four years following their Graduate visa when according to the immigration rules, if an individual switches to the Skilled Worker visa at the end of their Graduate visa, they are only eligible for the discounted rate for up to two years. 

Additional concerns relate to early data suggesting that only a relatively small proportion of those switching from Graduate to Skilled Worker visas entered graduate level jobs and that the majority of such migrants are therefore going into low-skilled jobs with salaries which are less than the median wage of other graduates. Of more concern yet is the data showing that a majority of graduates are entering care work which is something which the government certainly did not intend when it announced the Graduate route in 2019. 

The Home Secretary has referred to steps already taken to address the above issues including the restrictions on post-graduate students’ abilities to bring dependants and the increase in the general salary threshold from £26,200 to £38,700. James Cleverly, the UK's current Home Secrerary refers also to the proposed and much-anticipated increase to the new entrant discounted salary rates which Graduate visa-holders are able to access upon switching to the Skilled Worker Route. 

Accordingly, the UK Home Secretary has asked MAC to carry out a review of the Graduate route, in particular:

•    Whether there is any evidence of an abuse of the route and the route no longer serving the purpose it was intended for, namely to attract the brightest and the best.
•    Demographics and trends with respect to international students’ entry into the labour market.
•    Whether they are even continuing to contribute to the UK economy.
•    last but not least, whether the route is undermining the integrity and quality of the UK’s higher education system.

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MAC’s Response To The Home Secretary’s Request 

In acknowledging and accepting the commission to conduct the review, MAC has expressed its concerns regarding it being a rapid review, noting that the timescales in question are much shorter than usual, thus hampering the quality and quantity of evidence that it will be able to provide. MAC’s concerns in this regard have been echoed by Universities UK which has expressed its “deep concerns” with respect to the accelerated timeline which it considers is likely driven by political, as opposed to policy concerns. 

Furthermore, MAC has in turn requested, from the Home Office, by 26 March, certain data relating to Graduate visa-holders across the board and their subsequent employment activity in the UK in order to be able to sufficiently prepare its report, noting that any delays on the Home Office’s part will be referenced in consequent delays to the publication of its report.


MAC’s Previous Recommendations

In its annual report of 2023, MAC questioned whether the Graduate route was fit for purpose in attracting the brightest and the best and reiterated its initial concerns about the route attracting low-wage migration and universities marketing themselves on post-study employment opportunities rather than the quality of education on offer. In reaching its conclusions, MAC considered what it deemed to be a major shift in the characteristics of international students, noting that the majority of growth had been in 1-year postgraduate master’s courses, being focused largely on less selective and lower-fee universities. Finally, it also noted and addressed its concerns regarding the increase in the number of student dependants and questioned whether they are an asset to the UK economy or indeed a liability.     

Given MAC’s recommendations and concerns, it is certainly likely that the Graduate Route will be scrapped altogether such that employers will be left with no option but to sponsor international graduates under the Skilled Worker route which in turn will reconcile with the government’s broader objective that migrant workers are recruited only into the most highly skilled jobs, this particularly considering the increase to the Skilled Worker salary threshold to £38,700 due to take effect in April 2024. 

As we opined in a previous article, the government will look to appease international students, employers and universities by pointing to the new entrant salary discount although, as noted above, the Home Secretary has already stated that the relevant threshold in this regard will also “significantly increase”.


Paragon Law's Advice To Students And Stakeholders 

In light of the oncoming changes, our advice to students would be to prepare for the worst with a view to securing sponsorship under the Skilled Worker Route or proceeding under alternative immigration categories. 

To university career teams, we would strongly recommend collating data and preparing any evidence of international students securing graduate roles on graduate visas and examples of where this would not be possible where students are faced with the increased salary threshold of £38,700 even with the 30% discount for new entrants. 

Finally, to employers, we would emphasise the importance of providing evidence to MAC of the ability to recruit graduates on Graduate visas and having the much-needed opportunity to test their skills and commitment before investing in long-term sponsorship. It is also vital to prepare evidence of how this route allows the ability to set salaries based on regional variations and the risk of there being a disparity between the salaries of resident workers and migrant workers but for the Graduate route.


How can Paragon Law help?

At Paragon Law, our immigration solicitors and lawyers have supported many individuals to successfully gain the visa they need to enter the UK. If you require assistance with the Graduate Visa Route then contact us to arrange a consultation with an expert immigration lawyer.

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