Anxious students line up outside British visa centre as processing delay presses on

Cause of two-week delay that stretched a process normally taking only days remains unknown

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 10:47pm

The British visa centre was swamped anxious Hong Kong students and their parents on Monday who feared they might lose their school places over unexpected processing delays.

A long queue of at least 80 people snaked outside the centre in Causeway Bay from 9am as families waited to see if the visa issuance process could be accelerated.

Many said they had to cancel their flight and hotel bookings and risked missing the first few days of the new academic year.

Around 800 complaints about the delay have been received this month alone by education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, but around 20 students finally started receiving their travel documents on Sunday.

They include students attending universities, pre-degree and postgraduate courses as well as pupils bound for secondary schools.

“I worry that I’ll miss a few days of school, which is not ideal for a freshman,” said Claudia Chan, who is to study psychology in London. “Unfortunately there is nothing I can do about the situation but wait patiently.”

‘500 Hong Kong students’ face visa delays and risk losing places at British universities

Consulate staff told Chan her visa would take at least two weeks to process, as opposed to the usual three to five working days.

A student planning to attend university in England and only identifying himself as Chris claimed he had to cancel his plane ticket because he was unsure whether he would obtain his visa before the semester was to begin on September 18.

There is nothing I can do about the situation but wait patiently
Claudia Chan, student bound for London

“The online system is down, so I can’t make an online appointment,” he said. “Now I worry that, even if I line up here for hours, that won’t guarantee getting my visa application processed in time.”

A woman surnamed Wong accompanying her son, 17, complained she had wasted HK$2,000 on changing his flight. She added she had to reschedule her leave from work.

“I was planning to fly to the UK with my son this Sunday, but we had to cancel our tickets and hotel reservations,” she said.

Ip said about 20 students told him they had received their visas, but about 155 students were in danger of losing their school places if they did not report to campus by a certain time. He stressed he was disappointed with the arrangement and would continue to liaise with the British consulate.

The cause of the delays remained unknown. Ip previously said many students had applied as long ago as the middle of last month but had not received visas.

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The UK Home Office said in a statement on Monday: “The UK remains committed to delivering an excellent service for our visa customers in Hong Kong. UK Visas & Immigration currently issues around 10,000 visas in Hong Kong every year, of which more than 80 per cent are student visas.

“We welcome their decision to study in the UK – 99 per cent of student applicants in Hong Kong are successful and the vast majority receive a decision within our service standards. This is the busiest time of the year, however, and in a small number of cases in recent weeks it has not been possible to do so within the usual timescales. We are doing everything we can to ensure that these outstanding applications are resolved as quickly as possible.”

This marks the second time in recent years Hongkongers have experienced major delays in the processing of British travel documents.

In 2014, applicants trying to renew their British passports in Hong Kong faced delays of up to four months.