British Consulate apologises for visa delays affecting Hong Kong students

UK education consultant claims glitch stemmed from “scanning problem” with new passport system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 11:29pm

The British consulate has apologised for visa delays, as Hong Kong students collecting their documents on Wednesday blamed poor communication from UK immigration for a stressful and costly start to the new academic term.

Meanwhile, a UK education consultant on Wednesday said the processing glitch stemmed from a “scanning problem” with a new passport system used in Hong Kong where local applications were being processed. UK officials did not confirm the cause.

In a statement, the British consulate apologised “for any inconvenience caused by these delays”. It added that it did not handle the visas themselves but was “in constant contact with the relevant authority, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), and have been assured that they are looking into individuals’ cases as a matter of urgency”.

Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen received 1075 complaints about visa delays involving local students intending to enrol in the UK as of Wednesday afternoon, among them 150 reported they have finally received their documents. Ip expressed fears that flights to UK might be overloaded in the coming two weeks with more students gaining their visas, and he urged the government to provide help.

They are looking into individuals’ cases as a matter of urgency
UK consulate statement

By 11.30am Wednesday, a hotline set up at 3pm Tuesday by the government had received 1,048 calls and 450 emails seeking help.

The visa delays have similarly affected other places such as Malaysia, India and New Zealand.

Some Hong Kong students collected their delayed visas on Wednesday after Hongkong Post set up a special counter at its headquarters, the General Post Office in Central, for students to collect their documents sent via its courier service.

According to the postal service, a visa centre in Hong Kong had been authorised to process UK applications and arrange for them to be delivered via its service called Local CourierPost. The protocol entails calling applicants to arrange their collecting the travel document, or applicants could go to the counter from 8am to 8pm as of Wednesday.

A spokesman for Hongkong Post said as of 4pm on Wednesday, about 400 recipients had collected their mail items at the special counter set up for collecting UK student visas, while 109 mail items had been delivered.

“A new batch of Local CourierPost mail comprising about 400 items posted by the visa processing centre was received by Hongkong Post today, and their corresponding mail item numbers have already been uploaded onto our website,” the spokesman said.

Kan Cho, 24, slated to study a master’s degree in education psychology at Sheffield University in northeast England, had been “a little bit worried” after not receiving any emails from UKVI. However, he said the post office “just called” him last night.

But the delay caused him to postpone buying an air ticket because he “didn’t know when the visa would be in place”.

“I will be flying in two weeks, so the ticket will be quite expensive,” he added.

The delay also proved costly for Laam Lui, 20, who is to start at the University of Exeter in southwest England this month. Like many in her predicament, she had applied for a priority visa, paying out an extra HK$2,000, on August 16. But Lui did not hear back until Tuesday night. A priority visa typically takes a week to process.

“I applied for a priority visa, I paid for it, and they said it’s not guaranteed. They did not give me a refund,” the electrical engineering student said. “I think the visa admissions office is a little bit irresponsible because they should have called me.”

The air ticket, the taxi, the hotel, everything is booked
Daisy Liu, mother of visa applicant

Tsoi Tik-nang, 17, a pupil at Abingdon School in Oxfordshire, in southeast England described his ordeal as “quite stressful”.

“I feel kind of annoyed. I’ve asked for video conferencing from school but they can’t do it. I’ve missed out on a couple of days”.

And Daisy Liu, 54, mother of Cheng Chung-hin, 19, said she felt “very, very nervous” because the flight ticket was for next Wednesday. “The air ticket, the taxi, the hotel, everything is booked”.

While there has been no official explanation for the delay, Angus Tang Chi-wing, director of HKIES, an education consultancy service company for Britain, believed it could be have been caused by a change to the submission process – from using hard copies to soft copies.

“We get the feeling that the staff at the visa centre [in Hong Kong] were quite careless in scanning the documents, with many clients telling us they received emails from the visa office in Sheffield informing them that their documents were unclear or there were missing pages,” he said.

The director added that there was time wasted when resubmitting the documents.

But contrary to reports that the delays were caused by a shift in part of the operations to Sheffield, he said the UK city only handled the cases of incomplete document submissions, while the Manila office still handled the approval process, as in previous years.

Tang also highlighted another case where a glitch in the computer system in Philippine city affected caused a student’s documents to be lost.

“We have a case of a parent with a child attending boarding school in UK who applied in early August, but only notified in end August that the documents were lost due to a glitch in the computer system in Manila,” he said.

Fortunately, the parent quickly resubmitted the document, and the student received the visa in time for the first day of school.

Tang said his company noticed that the application process was slower than usual back in June, with it worsening in the following months.

HKIES had 30-40 cases of visa delays last Friday. These students needed to go to UK in mid-September, he said. The majority of the cases have been cleared, and Tang said the processing had been faster.

From Wednesday, the special Hongkong Post counter was to handle enquiries and questions on whether an item had been received by Hongkong Post. Visa applicants can call its temporary hotline on +852 2104 7304, between 8am and 8pm daily, or refer to its website, www.hongkongpost.hk.

Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific Airways has said students who were due to fly with them, and unable to travel because of the UK visa fiasco, would have their rebooking and rerouting fees waived for departures to the UK on or before September 22.

Students can get in contact with Cathay Pacific through Facebook or Twitter, and must supply the following information through a private message:

School admission letter, student visa or valid student card

Full name

Original booking with the Cathay Pacific booking reference number

A valid telephone and email

Preferred departure and return travel date (if applicable)

Additional reporting by Peace Chiu and Danny Lee