UK to review post-study work visa in drive to cut immigration

Graduate route needs fresh look to ‘prevent abuse’, says home secretary, as increase in visa salary thresholds confirmed

December 4, 2023
James Cleverly
Source: Richard Townshend

The Westminster government has announced a review of post-study work visas as part of new measures to curb migration to the UK.

James Cleverly, recently appointed as home secretary, said the government’s new five-point plan would result in 300,000 fewer people being eligible to enter the country.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Cleverly said previously announced restrictions on dependants of students entering the UK will have a “tangible impact” on reducing visa numbers, but the new measures will go further.

“Having already banned overseas master’s students from bringing family members to the UK, I have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review the graduate route to prevent abuse, to protect the integrity and quality of the UK’s outstanding higher education sector,” he said.

The automatic two-year post-study work visa was reintroduced in July 2021 by prime minister Boris Johnson, nine years after it was scrapped in 2012.

Sector leaders warned at the start of the year that a rumoured move to reduce it to six months would have a “significant negative” financial impact on the UK, but it appears to be back on the table.

“It needs to work in the best interests of the UK, supporting the pathway into high-quality jobs for the global talent pool but reducing opportunities for abuse,” added Mr Cleverly.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is an independent non-departmental public body that advises the government on migration issues.

Other new measures announced by the home secretary included raising the minimum salary needed to get a Skilled Worker visa to £38,700 and increasing the salary level for a family visa to £38,700.

The Conservative MP for Braintree said the package of measures – along with those already announced on student dependants – would result in the largest reduction on record of the number of people who are eligible to come to the UK.

Those plans announced previously, introduced by his predecessor Suella Braverman, will bar international students from bringing dependants from January – unless they are on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes.

International arrivals will also be unable to switch from the student route into the work route before their studies have been completed.

The minister cited figures showing that around 153,000 visas were issued to dependants of sponsored students in September 2023.

“The British people want to reduce overall immigration numbers – not only by stopping the boats and shutting down illegal routes but by well-managed reduction in legal migration,” said Mr Cleverly.

“People are understandably worried about housing, about GP appointments, about school places, and access to other public services when they can see their communities growing and growing quickly.”

Alex Powell, senior lecturer and programme lead for law at Oxford Brookes University, described the migration announcements as a “scandal”.

“Any changes to the graduate visa will be signing the death warrant of multiple UK universities,” he said on social media platform X.

“The Conservative party ARE the ‘anti-growth’ coalition.”

And Chris Lintott, professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, said the post-study work visa has been a “really positive” policy in recent years.

“Making it harder for early-career researchers to move to the UK makes it harder for us to do science, and to provide opportunities to British students and postdocs,” he wrote on X.

“We’re already losing brilliant people who can’t pay the fees associated with moving here.”

Vivienne Stern, the chief executive of Universities UK, said she was “pleased the government remains committed to maintaining the graduate route”.

“No one wants abuse of the system, so we will work with government to ensure there is no scope for this. However, it is important that we now put to bed the suggestion that this visa will be scrapped, which will go a long way to reassuring prospective international students that the UK remains an attractive destination,” Ms Stern said.

“The graduate route is an essential part of the UK’s offer to prospective students. Many of our competitors have something more attractive.

“International students make a net economic contribution to the UK of around £40 billion a year, and this benefits the whole of the UK. There are towns and cities across the country who can ill afford to lose this economic boost, and it is good to see that this has been recognised.”

Ms Stern added that universities would be “concerned at the potential impact of changes to skilled salary thresholds and the shortage occupation list”.

“This could impact universities’ ability to attract global talent, in disciplines ranging from civil and mechanical engineers to lab technicians and IT specialists,” she said.

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Reader's comments (2)

Just as the international student recruitment eggs are switching from the Chinese to the Indian basket, the latter being almost entirely enticed by post study work visas. Genius.
Most likely, the changes are politically driven. Yet, in time, they may turn out to have been economically sensible since AI’s pace of advancement could soon render entry-level hiring unviable for many industries.