As a part of a series of newer measures to reduce net migration, the UK government decided to review the graduate visa route last December, all of them confirmed by Home Secretary James Cleverly. According to him, the review of this visa was to be done “to prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of UK higher education”. Previously, the government had decided master’s students from abroad would no longer be able to bring dependents to the country, with this coming into effect for courses starting from January 2024. Also, an increase in student visa fees was already announced in September 2023 accompanied with a rise in the prices of the Immigration Health Surcharge.

All of these measures to restrict international students in the United Kingdom significantly add to the challenges they already face being away from home as well as the worries about their own future.

Why is the graduate route visa important for international students?

Boris Johnson reintroduced the graduate visa route in July 2021, about a decade after being repealed by former Home Secretary Theresa May. The graduate route visa allows international students who graduated from a university in the United Kingdom to work after their studies. The scheme provides two years of work for undergraduate and postgraduate students and three years for PhD students. With this, they can have a job without requiring a company or an organisation to sponsor their visas since the government has approved a limited number of them for sponsorship. However, once they get a suitable sponsor, they will be able to switch accordingly. Dependents are also eligible under this visa, provided they join on the student visa and apply to stay on it afterwards, which helps mature/older students, especially those in master’s and PhD courses to pursue their studies without leaving their families behind in their home country.

If graduate visas do not remain, then many international students will cease to study or work in the United Kingdom and look for opportunities elsewhere. Many universities dependent on them would find it difficult to sustain themselves and companies would struggle to hire fresh talent globally.

International students usually choose to work in the UK after completing their studies due to better work opportunities, especially post-Brexit. Hence, the decision to review graduate visas would hamper their career plans and aspirations since they would not be able to gain meaningful work experience anymore irrespective of their decision to settle permanently in the UK or return to their home countries someday. 

Today’s international students are tomorrow’s immigrants and without them, the UK would not be where it is today.

Similarly, the reason they choose to study in the country in the first place is due to the world-class education provided by the universities. Without international students, classrooms will lose out on talented students as well as diversity of ideas and cultural exchange.

For instance, a report published by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in 2018 mentions over 750,000 students heading to the UK to study each year, especially in tertiary education. Since then, there has been a large rise in the number of student visas issued with the total number of visas issued in 2019 being 404,400 and growing to 623,700 in 2022 respectively. This proves that people outside the country truly value and benefit from the education and job opportunities provided in the United Kingdom. 

Immigrants have been the backbone of many Western nations such as the USA, Canada, and Australia as well as an integral part of their history, culture and social fabric respectively. The United Kingdom is not an exception to this, with an example being its national dish chicken tikka which was invented by a South Asian immigrant from Bangladesh in Glasgow. Also, about 19 percent of workers in the NHS are from overseas. With this new policy affecting the international students’ working rights and immigration status, a massive void of representation would be created of people from these backgrounds in both the workforce and society.

If the graduate visa route is reviewed by the government, it would deeply hurt the prospects of international students, and eventually affect the entire country. After all, today’s international students are tomorrow’s immigrants and without them, the UK would not be where it is today.

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