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UK Graduate Route Visa Still Under Threat Despite MAC Recommending That it be Continued

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly considering changes to the UK’s Graduate Route visa, which currently allows international graduates to stay and work for up to two years after graduation. According to ‘The Observer,’ this proposal may face significant resistance from his own ministers. These potential changes could greatly affect the appeal of UK universities for Indian students, who have been the primary beneficiaries of this visa since its inception in 2021.

Government insiders have indicated that Downing Street is contemplating further restrictions or even abolishing the Graduate Route, despite the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) advising its continuation due to its benefits for UK universities. “Sunak is now finding himself caught between the demands of right-wingers with one eye on the Tory leadership and Conservative moderates who fear the consequences of a lurch to the right on the party’s reputation and election chances,” the newspaper reports, citing sources close to ministers opposed to eliminating the visa.

Key members of the Cabinet, such as Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and Foreign Secretary David Cameron, are leading the opposition to these changes. Leaders from universities and businesses have warned that reducing post-study visa options would make the UK less attractive to international students, especially those from India.

John Foster, Chief Policy and Campaigns Officer for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), highlighted the importance of international students: “Studying at university is one of our biggest export successes. Attracting international students boosts local economies and losing competitiveness would put support for undergraduate teaching and innovation at risk.”

Universities UK (UUK), which represents UK universities, has called on the government to resolve the uncertainty surrounding the visa. Vivienne Stern, UUK’s Chief Executive, stated, “We hope and expect that the government now listens to the advice they have been given and provides categorical reassurance that the Graduate visa is here to stay.”

MAC Chair Professor Brian Bell noted the significant impact on Indian students, who accounted for 42% of the visas granted between 2021 and 2023. He stressed, “Our evidence suggests that it’s the Indian students that will be most affected by any restriction on the Graduate Route.”

Vignesh Karthik from the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK echoed this sentiment, saying, “The uncertainty caused by the review has been chaotic. We urge the government to accept the MAC’s findings and ensure the Graduate Route remains a stable and permanent fixture in the UK’s immigration system.”

As the UK approaches a general election, the Sunak-led government is focusing on reducing both legal and illegal migration. With new immigration statistics expected next week, additional policy changes are likely.

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