Migrant graduates
UK Tightens Grad Visa: English Tests for International Students Pexels

Migrant graduates entering the UK via the Graduate Route will soon encounter a significant policy shift as the government introduces mandatory annual English proficiency tests. This initiative forms part of a broader strategy aimed at combatting potential labour exploitation of international students, who are granted permission to work in the UK for two years post-graduation under this scheme.

The proposed changes seek to tighten regulations surrounding the Graduate Route program; which has faced criticism amid reports of international students being enticed away from their studies to accept low-paying jobs below the minimum wage. Alongside the introduction of yearly English tests, the government plans to implement stricter oversight of universities and colleges, potentially impacting their ability to admit international students should they demonstrate high dropout rates.

Moreover, the Home Office intends to crack down on recruitment agents who exploit international students, steering them away from academia and into low-wage employment opportunities. These measures aim to align the Graduate Route scheme more closely with its original objective of attracting high-calibre international students to the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's recent immigration initiatives have further underscored the government's commitment to reforming the system. In addition to unveiling plans to prohibit British universities from offering "low-quality" postgraduate courses to foreign students, Sunak has announced redesigning the Graduate Route program, which will now incorporate yearly English proficiency tests for migrant graduates. These tests are poised to impact student visas and, consequently, the duration of their stay in Britain.

The government anticipates that these tests will help identify migrants possessing the skills and qualifications most sought after by the country. This move comes amidst escalating concerns regarding the exploitation of academic programs to circumvent immigration regulations and gain entry into the UK.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates, net migration to the UK reached a record high of 745,000 in 2022. This figure is significantly higher than in 2019, before the pandemic, and far above the Conservative Party's pledge to reduce net migration.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reportedly harbours concerns that certain universities provide "low-quality" postgraduate programs to international students. In exchange for tuition fees, these students secure a visa permitting them to work in the UK for at least two years upon finishing their studies.

Government sources cited data from HM Revenue and Customs, revealing that 41 per cent of individuals utilising the graduate visa program to work were earning below £15,000.

In March, the UK implemented new legal migration measures to reduce immigration in specific sectors. These measures targeted social care, healthcare, and student visa routes. The UK Home Secretary, James Cleverly, says the government's new immigration rules will bring down immigration numbers quickly, possibly within weeks.

Despite these efforts, tightening immigration rules, particularly student visas, may cause resistance from government officials and universities. The latter heavily rely on the revenue generated by international students, who typically pay higher fees than their domestic counterparts.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has voiced reservations regarding further limitations, suggesting that existing changes have already effectively reduced immigration numbers. However, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has cautioned against a blanket ban on international students enrolling in lower-quality postgraduate programs, emphasising the need for a balanced approach.

As scrutiny surrounding the Graduate Route program intensifies, Prime Minister Sunak remains steadfast in his determination to fortify the visa scheme. The government's overarching objective is to ensure that only the "brightest and the best" have access to the program, thereby safeguarding against abuse while continuing to attract top-tier talent to study at UK universities.