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UK visa delays hit Hong Kong agents and students

Agents and students in Hong Kong have been affected by UK visa delays, with some students forced to miss the start of their academic courses.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), more than 1,300 UK student visas for Hong Kong students were delayed, although the British Embassy claims that the backlog has now been cleared.


A 24-hour call centre and email address was established for concerned parents and students, and Hongkong Post drafted special measures to expedite the visas that were sent to and from the visa processing centre in the Philippines.


In a statement late last week and quoted in the SCMP, the UK Home Office said, "Almost all applications which had not been decided within our usual timescales have now been processed, with the exception of a very small number where further consideration is required."


Ronald Mak at Hong Kong agency Britannia StudyLink told StudyTravel Magazine, "Eighty per cent of our visa applications during August were delayed. Those normally taking five days (fast track) and 15 days as quoted on their [UKVI] website, turned out to be delayed to over a month."


At the height of the problem Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, reportedly entered reportedly intervened and called on the British Consul General to Hong Kong, Andrew Heyn, and the UK Home Office to expedite the process and offer explanation letters to affected students.


Explaining the impact upon clients, Ronald said, "Delayed entry has meant all previous bookings of hotels, flights had to be rescheduled, delayed or cancelled. Of course, many students were made to wait for their visas in Hong Kong and could not attend class on time; some UK schools have had tutors Skype with these students and make sure they are on progress.


"The biggest issue has arisen with university students, whereby colleges are much stricter. Failing to arrive on time meant some of them were told to delay a years' entry. This, however, has been softened since the HK government stepped in and liaised with the British Consulate to issue statements/written letters for individuals that this delay has been [due to] an external factor and cannot count towards the students' negligence."


Raymond Keung of UKEA agency said it was especially difficult for students entering Year 12 of boarding school and university.


"The GCSE results are not released until August. Usually this is already rather difficult as the new school term starts in September, leaving the students very little time to process student visas, on top of everything such as flight tickets, insurance, bank accounts, packing etc. Hence this year's stressful visa delay inevitably disrupted countless students' plans."


He added that schools have been supportive.  "School Heads and Registrars go the extra mile to contact the visa offices in the UK, help write letters and provide supporting documents. Although some students miss the term start, the schools are willing to extend their start date, as long as within the visa timeframe. The schools also provided reading lists to students, to make sure students can catch up soon once they join school."


Commenting on the impact on demand, Ronald said, "In the short term, it certainly left a nasty taste among UK school seekers as the press had a field day reporting the cases. However, long term - as long as the issue will not arise again and problems were addressed - I believe it will not affect the high demand for UK study."


Raymond concurred, saying, "The UK is a popular study destination. And this is the first time visa delays happened. We hope this is a one-off incident, with lessons to be learnt and improved in the future." He added, "We expect the visa services are resumed normal now. We also have faith in the future visa applications."


In StudyTravel Magazine's recent survey of agents in Hong Kong and China, the UK was the most popular destination, accounting for half of all bookings for the responding agencies.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor