THE Home Secretary and Home Office provided “incorrect” data when asking for a review of the UK graduate visa scheme, the expert chair of a key committee has said.

It comes after the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) – an independent, expert-led committee which advises the UK Government on migration – published a review of the visa scheme which lets graduates from UK universities stay and work for two years, or three if they completed a PhD.

The review, which was published on Tuesday and concluded that the graduate visa scheme should continue unchanged, was ordered by Home Secretary James Cleverly in March.

In his commissioning letter to the MAC, Cleverly claimed that “the majority of international students switching from the graduate route into the skilled worker route go into care work”.

READ MORE: Home Secretary challenged on visa scheme for Scottish university graduates

He added: “This is clearly not what the Government intended in the 2019 manifesto when it pledged to establish the graduate route to attract the best and brightest students to study in the UK.”

However, on Tuesday MAC chair Professor Brian Bell said the claim was “incorrect” and that only about 20% of overseas graduates went into care work.

The MAC report further said it was “extraordinary” that the Government appeared to have “very limited” plans for data collection, monitoring and evaluation when the graduate route was launched in 2021.

Bell said he was “baffled” that a Government could launch an immigration route and not have a data plan in place to evaluate and monitor it.

“That just seems incredible to me,” he added.

The professor further told reporters on Tuesday: “It really shouldn’t be up to the MAC to have to go around finding out data for the Government. That should be something that they do as part of their business as usual.”

When commissioning the review, Cleverly (below) told the MAC to assess if the route was supporting the UK to attract and retain “the brightest and the best”.

But when asked by reporters whether he believes the route meets this goal, Bell said: “The Government itself hasn’t given a definition, so that’s where we’ve had the biggest problem.

“It’s a lovely phrase, but unless you put meat on it and tell us what it means then it’s rather difficult.

“If at the end of the day you wanted to change immigration rules, you can’t get away with just saying ‘best and brightest’ in the immigration rules. You have to be clear about what it means.

“We therefore didn’t take a strong stance on it, on what it meant.”

The National: Home Secretary James Cleverly (Victoria Jones/PA)

Elsewhere, the MAC review found that recent immigration policy changes – such as the ban on many overseas students bringing dependants and the increase in the salary thresholds for the skilled worker route – will impact the number of overseas graduates who progress into the workforce.

About 70,000 international students who finished university in 2023 might have been expected to go into work routes but recent policy changes may reduce this number to around 26,000, the MAC estimated.

Bell told reporters: “If that’s right, or even ballpark right, getting rid of the graduate route would have fairly small effects on net migration, because the effects of the student dependant change and skilled worker threshold would be much more important overall.

“I think most of the hard work has been done – by the student dependant changes and the skilled worker threshold – in terms of reducing the long-run net migration effect of the graduate route.”

Prof Bell said the changes to student dependant rules introduced last year appeared to be having a “very significant effect” on student numbers.

He cautioned the Government against taking further action to reduce numbers until there was a “clearer picture” of the impact of these recent changes.

The UK Government is set on cutting record-high migration figures, but has been warned that limiting student visas will have a negative impact on the UK’s higher education sector.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to attracting the best and brightest to study at our world-class universities, whilst preventing abuse of our immigration system, which is why the Home Secretary commissioned an independent review of the Graduate Route.

“We have already taken decisive action to address unsustainable levels of migration and our plans are working, with a 24% drop in visa applications across key routes in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

“We are considering the review’s findings very closely and we will respond fully in due course.”