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What UK’s new visa rules mean for Indian students and migrants, as per experts

On May 14, 2024, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its rapid review of the Graduate Route Visa (GRV). The MAC has suggested that GRV should be continued in its current form. However, if the policy is amended to align with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s call to restrict visas to only “the best and the brightest” and curb the influx of international students to the country, Indians, who make up the largest market for UK study visas, will be greatly impacted.

With the number of Indian students pursuing higher education in UK expected to rise to 170,000 by 2025, any policy amendment will have direct impact on the number of Indian students choosing the UK as their study abroad destination.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

With the number of Indian students pursuing higher education in UK expected to rise to 170,000 by 2025 (Source: Indian Student Mobility report 2023-24), any policy amendment will have direct impact on the number of Indian students choosing the UK as their study abroad destination.

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The GRV acquires greater importance because according to National Indian Students and Alumni Association (NISAU) UK, 70% of Indian students consider the ability to gain work experience crucial when choosing an international study destination.

Experts decode the GRV, MAC’s recommendations and the ramifications of the recent immigration policy changes including ban on bringing along dependents as well as the hike in salary threshold for graduate sponsorship as well as Skilled Worker Visa.

What is a Graduate Route Visa (GRV)? Introduced by the UK government in 2021, GRV gives students permission to stay in the UK for at least two years after successfully completing a course in the UK – a UK bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree or other eligible course for a minimum period of time with the Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa.

A Graduate visa lasts for two years but for those with a Ph.D or other doctoral qualification, it will last for three years. A Graduate Visa cannot be extended but the individual can switch to a Skilled Worker visa.

What’s on the anvil? MAC’s key recommendations

• The Graduate route has achieved the government’s objectives and should be continued in its current form.

• Mandatory requirements for universities and improved disclosure of agent use, including a new mandatory registration system, should be considered to protect the integrity of the UK Higher Education system.

• Introduce a requirement for universities to provide confirmation of the course outcome (i.e. class of degree), in addition to the existing requirement to demonstrate that the course was completed successfully when applying for a Graduate visa.

• The government should prioritise the overall impact of policy changes rather than focussing on net migration effects.

How will MAC recommendations impact Indians and Indian students?: “The recent MAC recommendation to keep the Graduate Route visa untouched and intact is a welcome sign for Indian students who were anxiously awaiting clarity. Indian students aspiring for higher education in UK, who were hesitant till date can now pay their deposits and move forward confidently, secure admissions, book accommodations in time and plan their travel accordingly. Any changes to the immigration policy will not impact current students or those commencing their studies in the upcoming September-October intake,” says Saurabh Arora, Founder & CEO, University Living.

How expensive is education in the UK? “While basic academic costs range from £10,000 to £38,000 per year for undergraduates and £11,000 to £32,000 for postgraduates, and additional expenses for housing, food, and travel can average between £9,000 and £12,000 annually, making the total annual costs potentially exceed £30,000. The opportunities gained through international work experience and the long-term benefits of a UK education can offset these costs, ultimately enhancing career prospects,” says Manisha Zaveri, Joint Managing Director, Career Mosaic.

Sachin Jain, Country Manager, ETS India and South Asia, believes that the latest MAC report is data-backed and with the UK’s unchanged policy offering work opportunities after graduation, the country will continue to attract international students.

Impact of increase in salary threshold amendment of April 2024: The median monthly income for an individual working on the Graduate route is £750, or £21,000 annually. However, after the April 2024 shake-up of immigration policy, the minimum graduate salary for sponsorship has been increased from £20,960 to at least £30,960 per annum while Skilled Worker visa route minimum salary threshold has increased from £26,200 to £38,700 gross per annum. Those on a Graduate visa benefit from a ‘new entrant’ discount, but this only lasts for four years and includes time already spent on a Graduate visa. Consequently, some employers have already been reviewing their graduate intake policies and approach to sponsorship impacting countless recent graduates, including Indians.

Is the 2024 No-dependent policy a huge deterrent?: It maybe recalled that in January this year, the UK had announced a no-dependent policy under which international students studying in the UK will no longer be able to bring dependents with them on their UK student visa, aside from those on research postgraduate programmes.

Is it worth sending students to the UK? Answering a question about recent immigration policy changes, Lord Karan Bilimoria, Member, UK’s House of Lords, and Chancellor of University of Birmingham, said: “The current government’s anti-immigration and anti-international student rhetoric is so damaging; not only is it causing concern and worry amongst prospective students to the UK, it is hugely damaging to the whole university sector. For example, the removal of the dependents’ visa for all students except Ph.D students is really going to affect attracting the best students. In UK’s business schools, nearly 25% of the students bring dependents. Those students are not going to come to the UK if they need to bring their dependents. Thankfully, the fear that the two-year GRV will be changed, restricted or removed has been allayed.”

“The government has listened to the MAC recommendation of keeping the GRV intact and international students will choose to come to the UK which has some of the world’s best universities,” added Lord Bilimoria, who is also the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.


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