Universities, student groups lobby PM Sunak to protect UK’s post-study visa offer
PM Sunak to protect UK’s post-study visa offer - PC : Freepik

UK’s post-study visa offer: Universities and student groups on Tuesday urgently lobbied British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to safeguard the country’s post-study visa offer, which has been dominated by Indians to gain work experience for around two years at the end of their university degree.


Amid reports that Sunak is considering either restricting or ending the Graduate Route to curtail soaring migration statistics ahead of a general election, a group of nearly 30 university vice-chancellors and the National Indian Students and Alumni Association (NISAU) UK have issued detailed letters of appeal to 10 Downing Street.


They list a series of factors in favour of keeping the Graduate visa scheme unchanged, including the benefits that international students bring to the UK economy in a competitive global higher education marketplace.


“Modelling by consultancy London Economics shows that a single cohort has a net economic benefit of GBP 37 billion to the UK economy; as well as through the soft power that Britain’s international graduates generate for the country over time, including through furthering ties of trade and diplomacy,” reads the NISAU UK letter addressed to Sunak.


“Indeed, 70 per cent of Indian students have told us that the ability to gain meaningful work experience is a critical element in their decision to choose between competing international destinations, of which the UK is one… the Graduate Route allows the opportunity to gain this work experience for a temporary period. It is non-extendable and does not count towards permanent settlement. This means that neither students nor Graduate visa holders should be considered ‘immigrants’ in the context of the long-term picture of migration,” it notes.


Their appeal comes a week after the influential Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) advised the government to let the scheme continue as it found no abuse of this post-study work offer. It also confirmed that Indians topped its tally, accounting for 89,200 visas between 2021 and 2023, or 42 per cent of the overall grants, and were likely to be “most affected by any restriction on the Graduate Route".


In their letter to Sunak, universities in the north of England – from Sunderland to Sheffield, Leeds to Lancaster, Liverpool to Teesside, Bradford to Huddersfield, and York to Newcastle – said they will all be harmed by the removal or reduction of this visa as it is an “intrinsic part of the educational offer that has made the UK so attractive to brilliant students from all around the world”.


“The Graduate Visa Route is regarded by students in key markets like India as an integral part of their educational experience. The MAC review made clear that the removal of this route would make the UK less attractive and thus would cause considerable financial detriment to universities around the country,” reads their joint letter.


“International student tuition fee income has long cross-subsidised underfunded research and has increasingly become critical to cross-subsidise the teaching of UK undergraduate students because of the frozen tuition fee. Universities cannot continue to absorb the costs of teaching UK undergraduates without some form of alternative funding source,” they caution.


On top of their visa fees, international students who find work and start businesses contribute billions of pounds in income tax, national insurance and VAT annually. The university chiefs point out that they are also usually net contributors to the National Health Service (NHS) through the NHS surcharge.


The Russell Group of the UK’s leading universities issued its appeal over the weekend, with CEO Tim Bradshaw warning that there has already been a 10 per cent decline in international applications for post-graduate courses starting this September in the wake of the clampdown on students being able to bring dependant family members.


“A further restriction on international students would not only be unnecessary – as numbers are already falling – but also damaging, resulting in less spending in local communities, fewer opportunities for domestic students and less UK research,” he noted in a letter to Sunak.


Members of his own Cabinet are believed to be opposed to any changes to the Graduate scheme, but the British Prime Minister is having to balance pressures from the right of the governing Conservatives who are single-minded in their demands to curb all forms of legal as well as illegal migration levels ahead of an election later this year.