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Migration Advisory Committee publishes research into experiences of the graduate route

As part of its recent “rapid review” of the graduate route, the Migration Advisory Committee commissioned a qualitative study of the experiences of people who use the route. That study has been published and looks at people’s motivations to study in the UK, attitudes towards and experiences of the Graduate visa, and what they think of the proposed changes.

The following findings were made:

Career advancement was cited as an important reason for choosing to study in the UK

Within the sample, an important pull factor for graduates to study in the UK was the perceived prestige and global recognition of UK degrees, which they believed would enhance their career prospects. Some also viewed studying in the UK as a potential pathway to long-term settlement, especially those with dependants.

The existence of the Graduate visa was an important factor in the decision to study in the UK

The availability of the Graduate visa was a key factor in the decision of many participants to study in the UK. This visa route was seen as valuable for providing an extended period to explore work opportunities and to experience living in the UK in general. The route was also seen as a valuable ‘bridge’ between graduating and the requirement for sponsorship, which they believed would be easier to gain once they had experience of working in the UK.

Third party agencies had a strong influence over some people’s motivation to study in the UK

Third party agencies played a significant role in the decision-making process for some graduates who chose to study in the UK. These agencies, often free for students and sometimes funded by universities, provided assistance with applications, course selection, and accommodation. However, their influence sometimes led to misaligned expectations about the content of people’s courses, university rankings, or the location of universities. Reportedly, these agencies occasionally used the Graduate visa as a selling point.

Employment outcomes did not always align with people’s expectations

Post-graduation employment outcomes were mixed, with a notable gap between expectations and reality. Few participants secured roles directly related to their field of study, and some were unemployed. Most who were unemployed were either looking for work, applying for further studies or looking into alternative visa routes to allow them to remain in the UK. Some of those who had not secured work related to their studies reported some disappointment and surprise at being unable to do so. The few involved in this research who worked in care did so as a fallback option after struggling to find positions more aligned with their qualifications.

Many participants said they would still have come to the UK even if they had known the salary threshold for the Skilled Worker visa was increasing

Proposed increases to the Skilled Worker visa salary threshold would not have dissuaded most current Graduate visa holders within the sample from their decision to study in the UK. They remained confident in their ability to meet the higher earning requirements within their visa period. However, concerns were raised about potential negative impacts on the employability of Graduate visa holders if employers became hesitant to invest in them due to stricter long-term stay requirements.

Absence of the Graduate visa would have dissuaded many prospective students from coming to the UK

In a hypothetical scenario without the Graduate visa option, many of the participants indicated they would have been less likely to choose the UK for their studies. This is reflective of the fact that many participants saw the value of studying in the UK as interlinked with the ability to gain UK work experience and advance their careers.

I am not aware of the new government giving any indication as to their plans for the Graduate route, however I expect they will be more likely to listen to recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee which has said that the route should be retained.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.


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