Trained to be fair

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 October, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 October, 1995, 12:00am

I REFER to the letter headlined, 'Extreme prejudice', by Mr Adrian C Woodgate (Sunday Morning Post, September 17).

The Hong Kong Immigration Department is an agent of the British Government in handling visa applications for entry into the UK. As such, the department follows the instructions laid down by the British Government in processing various types of UK visa applications. While we are unable to comment on individual cases, particularly in public, we would be glad to advise on the general procedures for applying for a visitor visa to the UK under the existing procedures.

When the applicant submits his visa application to the Overseas Visa Section, a brief interview will be conducted by the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) at the counter. An application fee, which is non-refundable, will be collected at the same time. For a single-journey visitor visa, the standard fee is HK$392, and the normal processing time for a straightforward case is one week. In some cases where an overseas record check is required, the processing time may be extended to two or three weeks. In order to save time, the referral can be sent by telex on the applicant's request and the current fee for such service is $155.

In general, straightforward cases are often approved after the initial interview, and the ECO will inform the applicant when to collect the visa. However, for those non-routine cases where the ECO considers it necessary to obtain more information before a decision is reached, an appointment for a second interview will be arranged. If necessary, the sponsor in Hong Kong will also be interviewed before a decision is reached. Against the above background, I would like to explain the queries raised by Mr Woodgate in his letter.

The initial interview held on July 31 was very brief and it lasted for only about 10 minutes. When Mr Woodgate and the applicant were informed that the application required overseas check, they revealed that they did not wish to pursue with the application.

The applicant returned on the following day accompanied by Mr Woodgate for the purpose of re-submitting her application. Our ECO did not conduct any interview with the applicant on that occasion, but there was a short discussion of less than five minutes with Mr Woodgate only for arranging a further interview with another ECO (the case officer) one week later. He was also advised that an application fee of $392 had to be paid. All these were in compliance with existing procedures. It was obvious that at that stage, our officer was not able to advise whether the visa could be granted or not even when the necessary fees had been paid.

According to our record, no immigration officer ever advised Mr Woodgate or the applicant to make inquiries on visa application with the British Government. Nor had any of our officers ever advised them to apply for the visa in Manila. In fact, the application was finalised within 15 days and the visa was collected on August 18.

I am sorry that Mr Woodgate felt offended during his interview, but I am sure that there was no discrimination was intended. I would like to assure your readers that immigration officers are all trained to discharge their duties fairly without prejudice to nationality, ethnic origin or social status.

ANNA S.C. CHAN for Director of Immigration