Navigating Uncertainty: The Future of Indian Students on the UK’s Graduate Route Visa

Exploring Challenges and Perspectives Amidst Visa Review Concerns

For many Indian students, the UK’s post-study work visa, “Graduate Route,” was a crucial factor in their decision to pursue higher education in the country. However, the British government’s recent move to review this visa program has left these students in a state of uncertainty.

Student Perspectives: Concerns and Frustrations

Aditya Sharma is a 38-year-old from Telangana, India, who decided to change careers and enrolled at the University of Westminster last year. “Changing careers is quite difficult, but I was determined,” he explains. “I felt it was easier to do it in a new country where such transitions are encouraged.” The prospect of a Graduate Route visa appealed to him. The visa system that allows international students to work in the UK for up to two years after completing their studies attracts him.

Unfortunately, the British government has now tasked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) with reviewing the Graduate Route visa. This decision has left many Indian students, like Sharma, feeling unsettled. “There is a sword hanging over us,” Sharma told IndiaFocus. If they overturn the rules, it will be a complete change in how I had planned to shape my life.”

Challenges and Consequences: Impact of Graduate Route Visa Review

The review comes as the UK faces various challenges, including post-COVID-19 economic difficulties, the aftermath of Brexit, and a leadership crisis. However, the potential scrapping of the Graduate Route visa is causing significant concern among Indian students.

Rahul Singh, a 34-year-old student, is one of those who says, “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.” This sentiment is echoed by many other Indian students. They feel that the UK job market is already extremely unstable and taking away the Graduate Route will only exacerbate the situation.

Priya Gupta, a 23-year-old Indian student who graduated from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in January, shares her experience. “I don’t know of any foreign students, including myself, who have been able to secure a job within six months of graduating,” she laments. “Foreign students in even the top universities of the UK are struggling to land jobs.”

Gupta continued: “I have a Sri Lankan friend who graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Westminster last July. To date, he has been working at McDonald’s because he isn’t getting a job in any of the companies of his choice.” Gupta, who is currently working on several freelance jobs in the country, says that if the Graduate Route is scrapped. If an employer refuses to sponsor her, she will have no choice but to return to India and look for a job.

Expert Opinions: Reasons Behind the Visa Review

Sanam Arora, chairperson of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU), explains that the implementation of the Graduate Route visa triggered a wave of migrations into the UK. There was an influx of around 6 lakh international students between 2019 and 2024. She believes that a review of the Graduate Route is part of the British government’s efforts to stem the flow of migration. Immigration often becomes a political issue, particularly in an election year.

Kishore Dattu, national general secretary of the Indian National Students Association (INSA), suggests that the alleged misuse of student visas as a stepping stone to UK citizenship has also contributed to the government’s decision to review the Graduate Route. “In the past, students used to enroll in colleges in the UK, pay the fees of the first semester, and come to the country with their dependents,” he explains. “However, they would not complete their courses and would instead take up jobs in the country, as would their dependents.”

Challenges and Concerns

Dattu also points out that the expansion of universities in the UK, many of which offer “useless” degrees, has made it easier for students to misuse the system. He says, “Misusing student visas isn’t all that difficult as there has been a proliferation of universities in the country – many of which offer ‘useless’ degrees.”

Furthermore, the uncertainty surrounding the Graduate Route is taking a toll on the mental health of Indian students in the UK. Aditya Sharma expressed his frustration, stating, “Constantly reading the news of probable changes in the rules has become a ‘trigger’ for me.” He also mentions that almost every Indian student he has spoken to has expressed some level of regret over their decision to choose the UK as a destination for further studies.

Sanam Arora adds that Indian students who have secured jobs are extremely anxious about whether their companies will sponsor them. “We have been speaking to many Indian students who are very worried about the review,” she says. “One person I spoke to recently is just about to finish his course and has a job offer from a very reputed company. But the worry is, if the Graduate Route visa gets taken away and his employer doesn’t want to sponsor him, then he’ll lose the job.”

Conclusion: Uncertain Future for Students and Universities

The potential scrapping of the Graduate Route visa would affect students and pose a significant challenge for UK universities. They rely heavily on the revenue generated by international students. According to The Migration Observatory, the 6 lakh international students who came to the UK between 2019 and 2024 added a staggering €60 billion to the British economy.

Dattu explains, “Foreign students have been used as a cash cow. They pay incredibly high fees, take up jobs, and pay high taxes. They are filling the market labor and contributing abundantly to the economy.” He adds that British nationals don’t pay even half the fees paid by their foreign counterparts while enrolling for courses in UK universities.

As the UK government’s review of the Graduate Route visa continues, Indian students and the country’s higher education sector remain in a state of anxious anticipation, uncertain about the future of their educational and career aspirations. The potential scrapping of this visa program has left a “sword hanging over” the heads of these students, who now face an uncertain path forward.

Alok Verma

Alok Verma is an accomplished International Reporter at IndiaFocus with a deep-seated passion for global affairs and cross-border stories. With an impressive track record in international journalism, Alok is dedicated… More »

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