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Businesses call on Rishi Sunak to protect graduate visas

Graduate visas
Image credit: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr

Multinational businesses including Siemens and Thales have called on the prime minister to protect graduate visas to prevent damage to UK research and innovation.

In a letter from the National Centre for Universities and Businesses, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was warned that “financial pressures” from cutting off international graduates from coming to Britain could “undermine one of the UK’s greatest strategic strengths”.

The warning comes as Conservative MPs, including the former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, have called for the graduate visa scheme, which allows international students to work for two to three years after graduation, to be scrapped over fears it is being abused.

The letter, which also included signatures from executives from EDF Energy and Anglo American, said the group was “deeply concerned” over a “sharp decline in international student applications as a result of government policy”.

It warned against “undermining the positive impact that international students have on our skills base, future workforce, and international influence”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly, facing pressure from Tory MPs against the graduate visa scheme, commissioned a review be conducted by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a non-departmental public body.

The subsequent report from the MAC said there was little to no evidence that the UK graduate visa route was being abused. Jenrick, however, dismissed the findings as a “whitewash”.

Separate research from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Kaplan International Pathways and the National Union of Students (NUS), published earlier this month, found that graduate visa holders collectively paid £588m in taxes for the 2022/23 financial year, equivalent to £10,310 per holder.

The research also found the public services cost per graduate visa holder was lower than this figure, resulting in a net gain of £1,240 per international graduate or £70m combined.

UKTN has contacted the Home Office for comment.

Read more: How to fix the UK’s creaking tech visa system