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 The Migration Advisory Committee recommends retention of the Graduate route
Immigration law

The Migration Advisory Committee recommends retention of the Graduate route




The Migration Advisory Committee (the MAC) has now concluded its rapid review of the Graduate route, recommending that it be retained in its current form. The MAC’s findings, which are summarised in the Chair’s letter to the Home Secretary (dated 14th May 2024), have been widely welcomed by higher education stakeholders.

What is the Graduate route?

The Graduate route, launched in July 2021, is available to international students in the UK who want to work, or look for work, following the successful completion of an eligible course of study at degree-level or above. Successful applications can expect a two-year grant of leave in the UK (or three years if relying on a PhD level qualification). The Graduate route is a popular option for students looking to gain work experience in the UK and is often used as a stepping stone to secure sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route. There are also benefits to being on the Graduate route when it comes to switching into the Skilled Worker route. Applicants with permission under the Graduate route are classed as ‘new entrants’ when switching into the Skilled Worker route. This means that they would be eligible for a reduction in the salary threshold required. Instead of having to earn £38,700 per annum, they would instead have to be paid the higher of £30,960 per annum or 70% of the ‘going rate’ for their particular role.

Background to the rapid review

In December 2023, the Government announced its intention to commission the MAC to carry out a review of the Graduate route. In March 2024, James Cleverly asked the committee to consider whether the route was meeting its wider objective of “attracting and retaining the best and brightest students to the UK and supporting excellence in UK higher education”.

Why was the MAC review of the Graduate route commissioned?

The review of the Graduate route was commissioned as part of the Government’s five- point plan aimed at cutting net migration to the UK, via the study, work and family routes. Other measures aimed at restricting the number of people arriving in the UK via the student route include a ban on international students bringing dependants to the UK (unless on postgraduate research courses or government-funded scholarships) or switching on to work routes before the completion of their studies.

The Government set out its rationale for the review in a letter to the MAC’s Chair (dated 11th March 2024). The MAC was asked to provide its review by 14th May and to include the following five points in their analysis:

  1. Any evidence of abuse of the route including the route not being fit for purpose.
  2. Who is using the route and from what universities they graduated.
  3. Demographics and trends for students accessing a study visa and subsequently accessing the UK labour market by means of the Graduate route.
  4. What individuals do during and after their time on the Graduate route and whether students who progress to the Graduate route are contributing to the economy.
  5. Analysis of whether the Graduate route is undermining the integrity and quality of the UK’s higher education system, including understanding how the Graduate route is, or is not, effectively controlling for the quality of international students, such that it is genuinely supporting the UK to attract and retain the brightest and the best, contributing to economic growth and benefitting British higher education and soft power – in the context of the Government’s wider International Education Strategy.

The Chair of the MAC responded in a letter (dated 12th March 2024) asking that the Government provide data on the route by 26th March 2024, noting that the tight timescales would prohibit a Call for Evidence.

What are the MAC’s main findings and recommendations?

The MAC found no evidence of widespread abuse on the Graduate route (abuse being defined as “deliberate non-compliance with immigration rules”) and concluded that the route is not undermining the integrity and quality of the UK’s higher education system. The MAC did, however, find evidence that some agents and sub-agents recruiting international students are mis-selling UK higher education and exploiting students in the process. According to the MAC, the impact on public finances of Graduate visa holders on the route was “small but positive, as most appear to work, are young, and have no recourse to public funds.”

The MAC’s rapid review contains three broad recommendations:

  1. To retain the graduate route in its current form.
  2. That the Government establish a mandatory registration system for international recruitment agents and sub-agents to ensure quality control and avoid exploitation of students and that universities publish data on their spend on recruitment agents and the number of students recruited in this way.
  3. That the Government ensure that it has data and monitoring systems in place prior to opening new migration routes/ making significant policy changes in order to ensure it is able to assess the effectiveness of the route against its objectives and understand wider impacts and that the Home Office introduce a requirement for universities to provide it with confirmation of the course outcome (class of degree). Noting that some of the data provided by the Government was incorrect, the MAC also recommended that the Home Office undertake a review of the data variables used for analytical purposes across the largest visa routes (including skilled worker route, student route and graduate route).


Uncertainty amongst international students in the UK, and those organisations looking to employ international graduates, has been growing steadily since December 2023 when the review was first announced. The MAC’s recommendations will come as a welcome relief to those who were concerned it would recommend the route be heavily restricted or scrapped altogether.

The Government has yet to respond to the rapid review and it remains to be seen whether they will agree with its findings.

Should you require immigration advice in relation to the proposed changes or any immigration, asylum or nationality matter, please contact us.


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