At least 7.8 million mainland Chinese residents will find it easier to get a visa to visit Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan from next month, with authorities announcing on Tuesday visitors will soon be able to apply for the document from their city of residence, rather than their registered household address – usually their birthplace.
This and three other new measures related to easier travel to the three cities would take effect on Saturday, the Public Security Ministry’s State Immigration Administration announced.
“When the [four] new policies are in place, mainland visitors can travel to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan whenever they please,” said Qu Yunhai, deputy head of the administration.
“According to our estimates, every year about 7.8 million mainland residents will enjoy the benefits of applying for group tour visas to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan in cities other than their original place of household registration. It will save them 9 billion yuan a year on return transport fees.”
Under the household registration system, or hukou, which has been in place for more than 60 years on the mainland, residents’ mobility and access to public services is highly limited once they move to another city.
Documents ranging from identity cards, passports and travel permits to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan must be handled by the public security authority from their registered location.
The other three measures are to allow mainlanders to apply for and renew passports for foreign trips and travel permits to the three places from their city of residence; speeding up processing of travel documents so they are available in seven days instead of eight to 13 days; and expediting immigration procedures at checkpoints for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, set to open on September 23 and the bridge linking Hong Kong with Macau and Zhuhai.
The measures were announced as part of 22 initiatives to streamline applications for various travel permits, the bulk of which will come into force by the end of next March.
Throughout last year, the mainland immigration authority issued a total of 133 million passports and recorded more than 46 million visits to Hong Kong and Macau by mainlanders, official data showed.
The authority also announced it would develop an online platform to verify various travel and residence permits issued to non-mainlanders, so providers of public services in finance, transport, education and medical care can have better access to various facilities.
Peter Shiu Ka-fai, the Liberal Party lawmaker representing the retail sales sector, welcomed the measures to allow more mainlanders to visit the city. “It will help Hong Kong’s economy, particularly the retail sales, catering and hotel sectors,” Shiu said.
However Gary Fan Kwok-wai, a Neo Democrat lawmaker, said the decision “ignored the highly limited capacity of a city as small as Hong Kong and the impact on local people’s daily life”.
“Even only 5 per cent of the 7.8 million who stand to benefit from the change can make Hong Kong sink,” Fan said.
He asked why the Hong Kong government had not been consulted in advance, likening it to a similar lack of consultation on a recent policy change that allowed mainland visitors with group tour visas to enter the city even if not sponsored by a travel agency.
Yiu Si-wing, the tourism sector legislator, said the new policies might bring more visitors who would stay overnight in Hong Kong. “It’s still within our capacity if the increase in mainlanders coming here is not more than 10 per cent,” Yiu said.
Shiu suggested that the Hong Kong government step up cleaning at popular tourist spots and appoint “tourism ambassadors” to help reduce disturbances for local residents.
“Hong Kong should also create more attractions so that visitors won’t flood the few spots,” Shiu said.