THE United States Consulate-General last night announced an indefinite restriction on the issuing of non-immigrant visas.
An expected surge in applications for tourist, business and student visas between April and September - and a lack of available processing staff - has forced the measure to be introduced.
A daily quota will be set to provide consulate staff with a fixed workload.
''We hope it is going to be a temporary change,'' a consulate spokesman said.
''However, we will have to wait and see what the demand is over the next couple of months and how the consulate can best use its resources.'' On average, about 800 US visas are processed each day in Hong Kong but the number of applications can rise by as much as 20 per cent during summer. In the past few years, consulate staff have operated on a ''same-day'' processing policy and accepted unlimited applications.
''But, based on our previous experience, it can become extremely heavy during the summer months,'' the spokesman said.
The new procedures will be reviewed in a month to assess the public reaction and the overall effectiveness of curbing the intake of applications.
The spokesman urged people to use the consulate's ''drop box'', if possible, to assist in processing.
However, to be eligible to use this facility, an applicant for a business or student visa must never have been previously refused approval.
Drop box applicants need to have been residents of Hong Kong or Macau for at least a year.
If they are aged over 55 or have been issued with a non-immigrant visa during the past five years, they do not need to be interviewed.
The box is open between 8.30 am and midday and 2 pm to 3.30 pm.
The spokesman said the new quota provisions would start on April 6 and stay in place indefinitely.
The Non-immigrant Visa Section is open between 8.30 am and 11.30 am.