Lesson to be learned from UK visa chaos hitting Hong Kong students
Britain should have planned for the shake-up in its processing of documents but offers good advice to youngsters to submit applications in good time
We do not often take issue with British border control authorities, whose travel documents are greatly valued by Hongkongers for the doors they open to business, education and travel. There is good reason to, however, in the fiasco of missing visas for Hong Kong students accepted for study in the UK. The last occasion we did so was in 2014. Delays due to a backlog of half a million applications in the British passport office disrupted the travel plans of many dual holders of SAR and British National (Overseas) passports, because they had to submit both documents to renew the latter.
Inadequate planning for a surge in applications, following the cost-cutting closure of British consulate passport offices, hardly seemed a good enough excuse then. Now, three years later, it is difficult to imagine a good excuse for delays to visa applications that have put many Hong Kong students at risk of losing their places or missing the start of courses at British universities and schools.
Apologising, Britain’s top diplomat in Hong Kong says it is the busiest time of the year for applications and visa offices have not been able to keep up. However, with a bureaucratic reorganisation of the outsourcing of visa processing, that should have been anticipated and planned for. Anxiety over the effects of possibly losing placeson youngsters in educational transition is not easily exaggerated. It says something about the scale of the problem, and the stress of uncertainty, that within three hours of a helpline opening for students more than 1,000 calls and emails had been logged.
It is good to hear from Consul General Andrew Heyn that UK Visas and Immigration is looking into individual cases urgently and striving to ensure they are resolved as quickly as possible. That is partly thanks to intervention by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to obtain a pledge from Heyn to speed up delayed processing. Heyn may not have chosen the most timely opportunity to urge students to submit visa applications in good time, but it is good advice which should be repeated loudly and often and amplified by UK educational institutions.