Why it’s time for an MBA visa

26 October 2021

With the UK Chancellor’s budget announcement tomorrow, many UK businesses will be hoping for some good news on the recruitment front to help alleviate current skills shortages across a range of industries. They are likely to get short shrift. The Government has repeatedly pushed back on requests for sector specific carve-outs to deal with post-Brexit recruitment blocks. Instead, its relentless focus has been on the much more popular and palatable high-skilled immigration, attracting the “brightest and the best” with a focus on innovation, research and technology and the exceptionally talented.   

In its UK Innovation Strategy in July, the Department for Business Skills and Innovation (BEIS) outlined a “High Potential Individual” visa route to open the door to “internationally mobile individuals who demonstrate high potential to come to the UK”. Eligibility will apparently be open to applicants who have graduated from a top global university. 

The UK had an MBA visa-from April 2005, the now defunct Highly Skilled Migrant Programme allowed those who graduated from a specified list of top 50 MBA schools to meet the entry requirements. That MBA entry route was quietly dropped, before the entire route (renamed Tier 1 General) was closed in 2010. At the time, the policy direction of the new Conservative government was all about limiting numbers, as the UK had an open door to talent from the EU.  That door has now slammed firmly shut.

Getting onto an MBA course at one of the world’s leading business schools is hard.  Really hard.  In fact, it’s so hard that only 1.7% to 32% of self-selecting highly-educated and qualified applicants ever make it onto these prestigious courses.  The acceptance rate at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore is less than 2%, while Harvard’s is 13%. The average GMAT score that the top business schools require is over 700 out of 800 and GPA between 3.7-3.9 (i.e. 94-97%).  And that’s just the start-applicants are interviewed and need advanced English language skills. Business schools have finely tuned application procedures that identify not only those with the highest GMATs/GPAs or academic scores but also those who have demonstrated the ability to apply learning to the real business world.  

Getting in on this amazing pool of talent would seem to be a policy slam dunk for any country looking to find the best business brains in the world.  The UK has been busy expanding various global talent schemes alongside making its sponsored Skilled Worker visa one of the easiest (but most expensive) to obtain in any developed country.  So why not just open the door a little bit further and allow these super talented business people in simply by the fact that they’ve graduated from one of these top 50 business schools?

MBAs arguably don’t hold the prestige they once did. Many would-be applicants are instead rolling up their sleeves, founding start-ups, learning on the job and investing the $100-200,000 required for a two year MBA into their own businesses.   But there is no doubt that the selection criteria of the top 50 schools (and most likely many more) is one the UK Home Office could rely on to select successful migrants.

One of the issues that may be delaying a launch is that only 10 of the business schools in the UK feature in the top 50 global schools.  The many excellent UK business schools that don’t feature in the top 50 may well feel left out.  In addition, some of the leading UK business schools have overseas campuses which aren’t included.  And which top 50 list is the correct one?  What happens to those who graduate at a college in the top 50 which then falls outside it? 

These may all be valid concerns but shouldn’t hold up what is an easy policy sell.  It’s time for an MBA Visa.

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