Many received visas at the very last minute, while there are reports that some students are still waiting.
Hong Kong has been one of the countries which has been affected the most by the delays, with the South China Morning Post reporting that at one point up to 1,300 delayed visas arrived over three days.
David Anthonisz, global recruitment director at Oxford International Education Group, described the delays as “chaotic”.
“It’s not really acceptable that students should be made to wait a certain amount of time”
“It’s not really acceptable that students should be made to wait a certain amount of time,” he said. “Especially when they’re paying for premium service.”
Anthonisz said that while it is unclear how many students have been unable to go to the UK altogether, “late tens, early hundreds” were affected by delays.
Student visas usually take 15 working days to process, with the option of a premium service.
Aston University is still waiting for around 160 students from overseas to arrive from a number of different countries, according to Christina Matthews, head of international student services.
“We are aware of lots of the ‘fast track’ students who have paid significantly more for their application to be looked at as a priority, but they are still taking the same length of time as the normal service standards, which is not good,” she said.
Tough circumstances were also echoed by education agencies, as students faced long waits.
This year was the most challenging in 15 years, according to Seral Görmez, senior education counsellor & branch manager at EDCON education consultancy in Turkey.
Some students missed their start dates to UK universities, she said. One of the students was trying to call the visa centres, and “asking the university is it possible to connect with UKVI to speed up the process, but it never works,” she added.
The backlog in delays has now gone, Görmez said. “But I’m also worrying about next year as well.”
Meanwhile, Olga Krivileva, head of the European department at Students International in Russia, said that the delays were surprising because visa processing over the spring and summer seasons was running on time.
However, the delays hit at the end of the summer season.
“We had to phone the embassy regarding each particular application, which is actually a paid service now, you cannot contact them for free,” she said.
“But that did not seem to help really. We had several students who missed their start dates and now they are catching up hectically.”
Some students even went to the UK without knowing that the university would definitely accept them so late, Krivileva added.
“Luckily, all our students managed to enrol.”
In July, UCAS reported a 2% increase in international applications for undergraduate study to UK universities for this intake, to 70,830. China, Hong Kong and India were the biggest source markets for applications.
Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group, said that the group has been working with the Home Office and HE sector to “understand the nature of the delays to student visa processing in recent weeks”.
“In recent weeks it has not been possible to process all student visa applications within our usual timescales”
“We understand that additional resources have been allocated to address the issue and welcome assurances that students and sponsors will not be penalised as a result of any delays,” she said.
The Home Office has not released the total number of Tier 4 visas affected by the delay to The PIE News.
“This is our busiest time of the year and in recent weeks it has not been possible to process all student visa applications within our usual timescales,” a spokesperson said.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure that these outstanding applications are resolved as quickly as possible.”