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UK: the real cost of the Graduate Route visa

With the MAC review on the Graduate Route looming, what, if any, are the financial benefits gained from visa holders?

Following on from the announcement in December 2023 that the Graduate Route visa would undergo rapid review, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) are due to publish their findings later this month, with some fearing new restrictions may be imposed on international students.

This review was just one of a series of measures from the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, to reduce net migration. He said: ‘I am taking decisive action to halt the drastic rise in our work visa routes and crack down on those who seek to take advantage of our hospitality.’

However, there is concern by some institutions that all the evidence has not been sufficiently laid out for the MAC to make a comprehensive report, particularly when it comes to finances.

This week, with the review due to be published on 14 May, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), alongside Kaplan, the National Union of Students (NUS) and London Economics, have published the ‘first detailed look at the fiscal benefits’ of the Graduate Route visa.

The study found there were around 66,410 Graduate Route visa holders in 2022/23. In that same period, the total net benefit to the exchequer is estimated to be £70 million, or £1240 per international graduate.

These numbers are set to increase in the coming years, with the Home Office estimating 173,000 Graduate Route visas to be granted in 2023/24. By April 2025, the total number of Graduate Route holders in the UK could reach 350,000. At the same time, the new rules on dependants would see the total costs of visa holders reduce.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI believes there is a ‘real risk that important decisions will be taken on the basis of little robust evidence’:

‘If the Graduate Route visa remains in its current guise, as I fervently hope, then the financial and productivity benefits will multiply in the years ahead. If on the other hand, the Graduate Route visa is severely restricted or even abolished, as has been rumoured, then fewer international students will come to the UK in the first place, damaging our universities, our economy and our soft power. Tougher rules would mean employers in the public and private sectors find it harder to recruit the skilled employees they need. We would all be financially and culturally poorer.’

Image courtesy of Joshua Hoehne
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