Students fearing they may lose place at UK universities flood helpline set up by Hong Kong leader

Top British diplomat pledges to speed up student visa process and offer explanations to UK universities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 11:26pm

Students at risk of losing their places at British universities because of delayed visas flooded a helpline on Tuesday, with more than 1,000 calls and emails received in its first three hours.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the 24-hour hotline and email address, which began operating at 3pm on Tuesday, would be set up to help affected students report their cases. Lam added that Britain’s top diplomat in Hong Kong had promised to speed up delayed visa processing and offer explanations to UK universities for students who risked losing their places.

Lam’s announcement came as around 1,000 complaints about visa delays were filed this month to education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, of which 200 need to reach UK this week. The cases range from pre-tertiary to university courses.

Hong Kong is just one of several countries affected by UK visa delays this year, with others including Malaysia, India and New Zealand.

The delays in issuing UK working holiday visas for New Zealand citizens led to apologies by UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and then UK Minister of State at the Department for International Trade Mark Price.

According to New Zealand media, Johnson said the hiccup was a bureaucratic issue, while Price spoke of a new system and confirmed that the shifting of a centre from Manila in Philippines to Sheffield in the UK had caused the delays.

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

A student told the Post an operator for VFS Global, an outsourcing services specialist which handles UK visa applications, informed him that the delay was due to a change that separated the application process between Sheffield and Manila.

A Home Office spokesman did not respond to the Post’s queries, but said on Monday that the current period “is the busiest time of the year,” adding “we are doing everything we can to ensure that these outstanding applications are resolved as quickly as possible”.

Malaysian media also reported delays for student visa application while a lengthy process for travel visa was reported in Indian media.

Speaking before her weekly cabinet meeting, Lam said she had contacted British Consul General Andrew Heyn, who had pledged to speed up the visa processing.

The city’s leader said Heyn also promised to write letters to students’ schools for those who missed their attendance deadline, explaining their absence had been caused by the delayed visas.

Ip welcomed the hotline and called for flexibility at the schools. His office had received one case of a student losing his place at a university.

One student received his visa on Tuesday, despite applying for it on August 17 using the priority service – which he said should take three to five working days.

He would leave Hong Kong on Tuesday night and should arrive in UK in the morning on Wednesday. While he should meet the school’s final deadline on Wednesday, the student said the ordeal had made him “worried” and “messed up” his plans.

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UK universities were generally sympathetic to the students’ plight, and advised them to contact relevant departments.

University College London and the University of Bristol said they would show flexibility towards students arriving later if delays were due to circumstances beyond their control. A Bristol spokesman described faculties as “generally sympathetic so long as an acceptable reason for the delay is given”.

The hotline number is +852 3142 2522. Students may also email [email protected].