The British Consulate has issued an apology to nearly a thousand UK-bound students after they failed to receive their visas following unexpected delays.
The consulate said on Wednesday that Consul General Andrew Heyn had met with both Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung over the issue.
“We greatly value the decision by Hong Kong students to study in the UK and understand that preparing to study overseas is a stressful time and getting a response to visa applications within the timeframe that you are expecting is a fundamental part of that process,” it said.
“The British Consulate would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused by these delays. The overall picture is that 99% of student visa applicants in Hong Kong are successful and the vast majority receive a decision within 15 days.”
The consulate added that it is currently the busiest time of the year for visa applications, and that regular timescales had not been met in other parts of the world, not just in Hong Kong. It said that whilst it does not handle visa applications, it is in communication with the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) authority regarding the issue.
“Prospective students should be assured that UKVI is still committed to delivering an excellent service for visa customers in Hong Kong and are working hard to ensure that all cases submitted now are dealt with as quickly as possible,” it said.
A 24-hour government hotline was set up on Tuesday afternoon to allow affected students to inform the authorities about their situation. Students can also email the government with relevant queries.
A spokesperson from Hong Kong’s Information Services Department told HKFP that it had received 1048 calls and 450 emails requesting assistance as of 11:30am on Wednesday, after only 20 hours of being in service.
Students whose applications were approved have been asked to retrieve their visas from a temporary processing counter set up at the General Post Office in Central.
On Tuesday, education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said that 85 per cent of people who had requested assistance from his office had submitted their visa applications – some of which were priority applications – on or prior to August 20. He said that a number of affected students had since received their papers, but that the consulate did not provide him with exact numbers.
Ip said that the consulate had a responsibility to request an increase in UKVI’s manpower to speed up the visa approval process. He also said that the relevant UK authorities should inform educational institutions of the delays to ensure that students are able to retain their places.
Ip added that students had raised concerns about the high cost and insufficient number of air tickets. He said that he will write to the chief executive urging the government to work with different airlines to allow successful visa applicants to reach the UK as soon as possible.
HKFP has contacted the British Consulate for comment.