The recent massive delays in the issuance of student visas by the British authorities have caught a lot of local parents and their children completely off guard.
On Aug. 31, my Legco office received several requests for help from local students, who said they had already submitted their applications for British student visas at the beginning of the month, but since then they had heard nothing from the British consulate general.
They were worried that if they couldn’t report to their schools or universities in Britain on time, they could miss the current academic year and be required to defer their graduation for one year, or in the worst-case scenario, their late arrival could cost them their school places.
Realizing the magnitude of the problem, I immediately contacted the government and then passed on the students’ concern to the British consulate in Hong Kong.
Under the existing policy of the British government, all overseas students can only formally apply for their student visas after the schools or universities at which they had enrolled have received a document known as the “Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies” (CAS) from the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA).
As far as Hong Kong students are concerned, they can only apply for admission to British education institutions after the results of HKDSE and UCAS examinations are published and won’t get their CASs until early August. After that, they can proceed with their visa applications.
Under normal circumstances, there is sufficient time for them to apply for their student visas since it only takes around 15 working days to get approved. In case of applications for “priority visas”, it only takes three to five days.
However, the fact that the British government has been unable to process visa applications according to the schedule has thrown many local parents and students into complete confusion.
I spoke by phone with the British deputy consul general who promised to follow up on the cases immediately. I also announced through the media that those who were still waiting for their British student visas could contact my Legco office for assistance.
Within a few days, my office received over 1,000 requests for help.
However, I believe they were only the tip of the iceberg, given the fact that there are tens of thousands of Hong Kong students going to study in Britain every year.
Over the past few days, my Legco staff have been handling the 1,000-plus cases we received and then sending them to the British Consulate for follow-up action.
In particular, I have prioritized students who haven’t received their visas yet but who have to report to their schools in Britain within days to secure their places, and asked that the British Consulate take care of them first.
Meanwhile, the SAR government has also established an inquiry hotline for students who are affected by the visa delays, and Hong Kong Post has also arranged for students to pick up their visas at their nearest post offices in person so as to spare them the delivery time.
Even though I learned that many students who had sought help from my office earlier already obtained their visas and set out for Britain, there are some who are still waiting for their travel documents and some have even lost their school places as a result. I will continue to follow up on their cases and do everything I can to help them.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 7
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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