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May 22, 2024

Indian Students Urge UK Prime Minister to Protect Graduate Route Visa

Universities and student organizations in the UK are urgently appealing to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to safeguard the country’s Graduate Route visa, a post-study work visa crucial to international students, particularly from India. This visa allows graduates from UK universities to gain valuable work experience for two years post-graduation, a significant draw for those seeking global career opportunities and potential pathways to permanent employment in the UK.

The Graduate Route visa has been a cornerstone for students at prestigious institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, Sussex, and SOAS. However, recent reports suggest that Prime Minister Sunak is considering curbing or even abolishing this visa scheme in an effort to reduce rising migration numbers ahead of the upcoming general election. This possibility has prompted a swift response from nearly 30 university vice-chancellors and the National Indian Students and Alumni Association (NISAU) UK. In letters addressed to 10 Downing Street, they emphasized the numerous benefits of maintaining the Graduate Route visa.

A prominent argument made by NISAU UK is that 70% of Indian students deem work experience opportunities critical when selecting an international study destination. They highlighted that the Graduate Route is a temporary, non-extendable visa and does not contribute towards permanent settlement, suggesting that graduates should not be classified as long-term immigrants.

Key Points from the Appeal

  1. Economic Contributions: A single cohort of international students injects GBP 37 billion into the UK economy. Indian students, who comprise 42% of Graduate Route visa holders, significantly contribute to this figure. Between 2021 and 2023, 89,200 visas were issued to Indian students.
  2. Decline in Enrollments: Recent visa restrictions have led to a 63% decrease in postgraduate student registrations for the upcoming academic year. The impact of this decline could lead to reduced local spending and economic activity, university closures, and job losses.
  3. Support for Research and Teaching: International student tuition fees are essential for cross-subsidizing underfunded research and domestic undergraduate teaching. With frozen tuition fees for UK students, universities rely on these fees to maintain financial stability.
  4. NHS Contributions: International students are net contributors to the NHS through the NHS surcharge, further underlining their economic importance.
  5. Market Competitiveness: Universities across the north of England, from Sunderland to Newcastle, have cautioned that removing or reducing the visa would diminish the attractiveness of the UK’s educational offer. The Graduate Route visa is seen as integral to the overall educational experience, particularly in key markets like India.

Recommendations and Concerns

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a governmental body, recently recommended the continuation of the Graduate Route visa, finding no evidence of its abuse. They underscored the vital role international students play in supporting UK universities’ financial health and innovation.

The Russell Group, representing the UK’s leading universities, echoed these concerns. CEO Tim Bradshaw noted a 10% drop in international applications for postgraduate courses beginning this September, attributing this decline to new restrictions on students bringing dependent family members. He warned that further constraints would negatively impact local economies, opportunities for domestic students, and the UK’s research capabilities.

Immigration Rule Changes

Recent changes to immigration rules for international students include:

  • Dependents: Postgraduate research students, except those in Master of Research (MRes) and Doctorate programs, can no longer bring dependents to the UK. Caregivers are also restricted from bringing dependents.
  • Skilled Workers: Higher salary thresholds for skilled workers have been introduced, with the minimum salary for a Skilled Worker visa significantly increased. Additionally, the 20% “going-rate” discount for migrant workers in shortage occupations has been removed.

These changes have led to a 48% rise in the minimum salary required for Skilled Worker visa applicants, causing concerns about the accessibility of the UK job market for international graduates.

Conclusion

As the UK government contemplates further restrictions on the Graduate Route visa, universities, student groups, and economic experts are highlighting the substantial contributions of international students. Protecting the Graduate Route visa is not just about educational opportunities but also about maintaining the UK’s position as a global leader in higher education and innovation. For Indian students, the visa represents a vital bridge to international work experience and career growth, making its preservation crucial for both educational and economic reasons.

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Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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