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May 20, 2024

UK PM Sunak Faces Cabinet Revolt Over Potential Scrapping of Graduate Route Visa

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is contemplating significant changes to the UK’s post-study visa program, the Graduate Route, which permits international graduates to remain in the country and work for up to two years after completing their degrees. This move is part of an effort to reduce rising legal migration figures. However, this consideration has sparked strong opposition from within his own Cabinet, according to a report by The Observer.

The Importance of the Graduate Route

Since its inception in 2021, the Graduate Route visa has become a crucial factor for international students, especially those from India, when choosing UK universities. Indian students have been the largest group to benefit from this visa, accounting for 42% of the total visas granted between 2021 and 2023. This route has been instrumental in helping UK universities mitigate financial losses and attract a diverse student body.

Cabinet Opposition and Concerns

Downing Street is reportedly exploring options to either further restrict or completely abolish the Graduate Route visa. This is despite the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) affirming that the visa program is not being misused and advocating for its continuation due to its positive impact on UK universities.

Sunak is now navigating a delicate political landscape, facing pressure from right-wing elements within the Conservative Party who are keen on stringent immigration controls, and moderate members who fear the potential negative repercussions on the party’s reputation and electoral prospects. Notably, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and Foreign Secretary David Cameron are leading the opposition against scrapping the visa.

Economic and Academic Implications

University and business leaders have voiced serious concerns about the potential curtailment of the Graduate Route visa. John Foster, Chief Policy and Campaigns Officer for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), highlighted that international students significantly contribute to the UK economy. He warned that reducing the attractiveness of UK universities to overseas students could jeopardize support for undergraduate teaching and innovation.

Vivienne Stern, Chief Executive of Universities UK (UUK), emphasized the damaging uncertainty caused by the government’s review of the visa route. She called for clear assurance that the Graduate Route visa would remain in place, underscoring its critical role in the success of UK higher education.

Expert Opinions and Statistical Insights

The MAC, led by Chair Professor Brian Bell, recently concluded a rapid review of the Graduate Route visa. The committee’s findings indicate that any restrictions on the visa would predominantly affect Indian students, who have been the largest beneficiaries. The MAC’s review supports the continuation of the visa, citing its alignment with the government’s policy objectives and its non-abusive nature.

Vignesh Karthik from the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK also stressed the chaos and uncertainty caused by the ongoing review. He urged the government to heed the MAC’s findings and ensure the stability and permanence of the Graduate Route visa within the UK immigration system.

Political and Future Implications

As the UK approaches a general election, expected within the next few months, the Sunak-led government is prioritizing the reduction of both legal and illegal migration. With new immigration statistics due shortly, further policy changes and restrictions are anticipated. However, the internal revolt within the Cabinet over the Graduate Route visa highlights the complex and contentious nature of immigration policy in the current political climate.

In conclusion, the debate over the Graduate Route visa underscores a significant clash within the UK government, balancing between curbing migration figures and maintaining the attractiveness of UK higher education to international students. The outcome of this debate will have profound implications for universities, the economy, and the country’s global reputation as a leading education destination.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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