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Rishi Sunak May Not Scrap UK Graduate Visa: What This Means for Indian Students

The Graduate Route is a lifeline for Indian students in the UK, as they account for 40 percent of its total users.

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In a boon for Indian and other foreign students in the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seems poised to discard plans of cracking down on the post-study work visa offered to international students by the British government – also known as the 'Graduate Route'.

The route, announced by the UK in 2020 and implemented in 2021, allows foreign students to stay unsponsored in the country for two years (three for PhD students) after completing their courses. The decision was made to persuade international students to choose the UK as a destination for further studies over other countries.

While the government has not made any official announcement yet, Sunak is said to have decided against scrapping the visa programme after facing considerable opposition from bigwigs in his Cabinet – who argued that doing so could have a massive impact on Britain's universities and dampen the country's economic prospects.

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The Cabinet colleagues who opposed Sunak's plans include Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary David Cameron, Home Secretary James Cleverly, and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, according to a report by Financial Times.

MAC Upholds Graduate Route Visas

The purported decision also comes close on the heels of a report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) last week, which recommended retaining the Graduate Route in its entirely after the review found no evidence of widespread abuse of the visas offered under it.

The MAC had been tasked to review the Graduate Route in March this year in the backdrop of rising immigration levels in the country. For instance, around 6 lakh foreign students had migrated to the UK between 2019 and 2024 – triggered primarily by the implementation of the route.

The report also stated that Indian students account for around 40 percent of Graduate Route users, followed by Chinese nationals.

Instead of scrapping the programme entirely, the Sunak government is said to be mulling milder policy changes to prevent "abuse" of the country's overburdened immigration system.

This includes cracking down on recruitment agents that promote UK degree courses abroad and imposing penalties on those who fail to provide the kind of students they promise. Further, foreign students who stay in the UK after completing their courses might be required to take mandatory English tests, Financial Times reported.

The government had also been considering ways to cut the accessibility of the visas by making it available to only the "best and brightest" foreign students, such as those graduating from 'Russell Group' universities – which is the UK's equivalent of Ivy League universities in the US.

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'If Graduate Route Is Scrapped, UK Will Lose Out': Indian Students' Body

Meanwhile, National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) chairperson Sanam Arora wrote a letter to Sunak on Tuesday, 21 May, urging the government to safeguard the Graduate Route.

NISAU is a non-profit representing the interests of Indian students and alumni in the UK.

The letter, which Arora shared with The Quint, states that the route is absolutely imperative for Britain's attractiveness as an academic destination for foreign students and the stability of the country's higher education sector.

"The best will go to where the best offer is, and any worsening of the graduate route will make the UK’s offer significantly worse," the letter states.

Arora further says that a large number of students take expensive loans to fund their education, and naturally expect to be employed in the country in order to earn their money back.

"In actual fact international students and graduates are by and large extremely hard-working young people who have typically invested tens of thousands of pounds into their UK education, alongside their dreams and aspirations for a better future. They trust our country with their futures, often by taking out expensive educational loans. It is only reasonable that they would want some return on this very significant investment."
Sanam Arora's letter to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Research conducted by NISAU earlier this year had predicted that if the Graduate Route visa is scrapped, there will be a 70 percent fall in the number of Indian students coming to the UK in the next few years.

Similarly, a letter signed by the vice-chancellors of over 20 universities across northern England urged the British government to accept the findings of the MAC.

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"Universities from Sunderland to Sheffield, Leeds to Lancaster, Liverpool to Teesside, Bradford to Huddersfield, and York to Newcastle will all be harmed by the removal or reduction of the graduate route visa," the letter reads.

The vice-chancellors further state that in the first year of the Graduate Route's implementation (2020-21), the intake of foreign students across northern England had generated a staggering £7.2 billion in revenue.

"Universities are now reporting reductions in applications of as much as 80 percent in some areas and that reduction in income will have a catastrophic impact on the region’s economy," they cautioned.

According to The Migration Observatory, the 6 lakh foreign students who came to the UK between 2019 and 2024 added a staggering €60 billion to the British economy.

"Foreign students have been used as a cash cow. They pay incredibly high fees, take up jobs, and pay high taxes. They are actually filling the market labour and contributing abundantly to the economy," Kishore Dattu, national general secretary of the Indian National Students Association (INSA), had said while speaking to The Quint.

Dattu says that British nationals don't pay even half the fees paid by their foreign counterparts while enrolling for courses in UK universities.

"An average Indian student spends about £35,000 or Rs 36 lakh – which is big money for a middle-class Indian family. It is not a solid investment if there is no chance of earning the money back by taking up a high-paying job in the UK after graduating. So obviously students won't even consider coming here if the rules are scrapped."
Kishore Dattu
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Indian Students in the Lurch

At the time the Graduate Route was being examined, The Quint had spoken to several Indian students who expressed their fears and anxieties over the MAC review.

For 38-year-old Javed Abbasi, pursuing a course in the UK seemed like the best option to make a career change. Having made up his mind, he left a well-paying job in India and enrolled in the University of Westminster in September last year.

"Changing careers is quite difficult, but I was determined. I felt it was easier to do it in a new country where such transitions are encouraged," Abbasi, a Telangana resident who's currently pursuing his master's in human resource management, told The Quint.

However, he said that the announcement of the Graduate Route review was like a "sword hanging over us".

Jay Singh, 34, had said that the post-study work visa was the only reason he chose the UK for further studies over other destinations like the US and Australia. "I would not have even considered paying such a high sum of money to come to the UK if it were not for the graduate rules," he said.

In May last year, the government had announced that in order for a foreign student to be sponsored by an employer, he or she must secure a job that pays at least £38,700 a year. It also announced that international students would no longer be able to bring dependents with them unless they are pursing PhD courses.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Britain   UK   Indian Students Abroad 

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