Call for Hong Kong, Macau to grant on-arrival visas to ‘Greater Bay Area’ residents
Greater Bay Area urban planning study includes a raft of proposals and relaxed regulations to encourage increased integration of Hong Kong and Macau with their Pearl River Delta neighbours
Hong Kong and Macau should grant travel permits on arrival to mainlanders, and outbound border inspections should be scrapped across the region to aid the flow of people within a proposed Greater Bay Area, according to a study commissioned by the Guangdong authorities.
It is just one idea in an extensive proposal to turn the coastal part of the Pearl River Delta, which covers nine Guangdong cities, Hong Kong and Macau, into an integrated economic zone.
Wang Fuqiang, deputy head of the study panel and a researcher at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, said the study also proposed that the underutilised, single-runway Zhuhai airport, located west of Macau, could help alleviate Hong Kong airport’s growing traffic.
The Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis News reported that the provincial government had finished a draft plan based on the study and sent it to Hong Kong and Macau authorities for consultation, and hoped to submit a final proposal for Beijing’s approval in September.
The newspaper said Wang presented the study to Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui this month. Zhang Xiaoqiang, a member of the think tank and a former deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, joined Wang for the briefing.
At the same time, the blueprint drafted by the think tank could be just one of the proposals for the Greater Bay Area, and it is unknown how many ideas will be endorsed officially as government policy.
Sun Yat-sen University has been advising the Guangdong government over cross-border collaboration policies. Chen Guanghan, the director of the Centre for Studies of Hong Kong, Macau and the Pearl River Delta at the university, said the published proposal might be too ambitious.
“The priority now is about infrastructure, fostering human resources and capital flow,” Chen said.
Lin Jiang, a finance professor who is leading the school’s free trade zone research, said regional integration proposals were good “in theory” but could be hard to implement. He cited the slow progress of joint border crossing arrangements at the planned high-speed railway station in Hong Kong to show the difficulties on the ground.
Explaining the Guangdong study’s border control proposal, Wang told the Southern Metropolis Daily that the first task was “to relax visa screening procedures for mainland residents heading to Hong Kong and Macau”. This would include granting lower-level governments, such as ones at the county level, the right to issue visas.
On-arrival visas should also be granted to Greater Bay Area residents heading to Macau and Hong Kong, Wang said. The study proposes retaining only entry checks at the borders while scrapping exit inspections.
James To Kun-sun, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s security panel, said that was a bad idea. “If too many people are visiting, Hong Kong people will be very upset,” To said. “Will this lead to mainland-Hong Kong conflicts such as beating up tourists again?”
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the former director of immigration, said she did not see the need to further ease border controls.
“It is already very convenient for mainland residents to come to Hong Kong. They can stay for at least three months, how is that not long enough?” Ip asked.
A Hong Kong government spokesman said city authorities had been drafting a bay area development plan along with the National Development and Reform Commission, the Guangdong Provincial Government and the Macau government, and that the plan was expected to be finalised this year.
The study also recommended improved flows of investment and cooperation in sea and air transport.
Mainland experts also proposed promoting regional funding flows under cross-border investment schemes such as the Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (RQFII) programme, Wang said, as well as increasing Hong Kong and Macau financial institutions’ market access to Guangdong through the existing Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) framework.
The study said that with the completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, Hong Kong airport could divert some flights to Zhuhai. It also called for the central government’s aviation regulator to realign flight routes in the bay area.
An Airport Authority spokeswoman said it had been cooperating with Zhuhai authorities in managing and operating the Zhuhai airport.
She said Hong Kong International Airport and other airports in the Pearl River Delta would collaborate and develop together once the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge was built.
The study also includes proposals for skilled foreign workers, such as extending to them medical insurance coverage and elderly care while relaxing visa and residency requirements.
The scheme also seeks to relax education and other public services while building an integrated labour and property market to encourage Hong Kong and Macau professionals to live and work in the region.
Main proposed points:
● Extend stays for mainland visa applicants to Hong Kong and Macau
● On-arrival visas for Pearl River Delta residents
● Maintain border entry checks and scrap exit inspections
● Relax financial sector regulations
● Relax China visa requirements for skilled overseas workers
● Extend Guangdong’s public services such as education and health care to Hong Kong and Macau residents, to encourage them to settle in other Greater Bay Area cities.
● Encourage Hong Kong and Macau residents to buy homes on the mainland.
● Set up a Greater Bay Area development investment corporation funded by central and local governments as well as private capital.
Additional reporting by Shirley Zhao