Calls mount for answers on visa policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am

Business travel st arts to suffer

Pressure is building on China's foreign affairs ministry to explain new restrictions on issuing visas to foreign visitors - a move the American Chamber of Commerce calls a 'significant step backwards'.

Some members of the association said they might scale back their operations on the mainland, while others said they would stop making business trips to the mainland until the situation returned to normal.

The main concerns are the suspension of multiple-entry visas, new requirements to provide a return travel ticket and a hotel voucher before applying for a visa, and higher visa charges.

Chambers worldwide say they are stepping up their lobbying of the central government. British ministers were said to have to have raised the issue with officials in Beijing last week.

Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce, has said the ban on multiple-entry visas would end in October, although Beijing had not confirmed this in writing, he said.

The issue has been clouded in confusion with the ministry, travel agents and the press giving conflicting information.

The commissioner's office of the Foreign Ministry denied in an earlier statement that the visa policy had been changed and that multiple-entry visas could still be issued.

In a letter to the commissioner, Lu Xinhua, last Friday, AmCham president Richard Vuylsteke sought clarity, asking for details of the changes, the reasons behind them and how long they would last.

'Businesspeople need stability to operate and the Hong Kong business community has been thrown into great turmoil as a result of the new and largely misunderstood visa policies,' Mr Vuylsteke said.

'Hong Kong businesses rely upon ease of passage across the world's busiest border crossing at Lowu and others from Hong Kong into China to earn their livelihoods and to sustain the enormous wealth creation achieved over the past 30 years ... These recent changes and ... the way in which they have been implemented is a significant step backwards.'

The Australian Chamber of Commerce is the latest group to move to gauge the impact of the matter upon its 1,000 members, following similar moves by American and European bodies.

Deborah Biber, chief executive of the Australian chamber, believed more than 40 per cent of her members were affected by the changes and her chamber, like others, was also trying to hold a meeting with the central government.

'The issue requires patience and negotiation. We have to negotiate carefully so those involved would not lose face. No one should order anyone into doing anything, but a resolution should come under mutual agreement of both parties,' she said.

Welcoming mat?

The percentage of its members the Australian chamber says have been affected by the change is 40%