Shenzhen multi-entry travel permits for Hong Kong delayed

Would-be Shenzhen travellers are told that no passes will be issued for three weeks on the day that the new tourism scheme came into effect

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2012, 9:47pm

Non-permanent residents of Shenzhen eager to apply for a multi-entry permit to Hong Kong were met with signs telling them no permits would be issued for the next three weeks on the day new rules took effect.

People turning up at the Shenzhen Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, Futian branch were turned away yesterday, the first day of a scheme offering multi-entry permits to the 4.1 million Shenzhen residents who do not hold hukou, the household registration document.

Non-permanent residents previously had to return to their own provinces to apply for multi-entry permits.

However, immigration officers in Shanghai and Beijing said yesterday that increased numbers of people were either applying for single-entry permits for Hong Kong or inquiring about obtaining one. Under a new policy announced last week, which was obscured by the controversy over Shenzhen permits, five other mainland cities relaxed the rules on migrants to those cities applying for single-entry permits to the SAR. The rule changes had angered Hongkongers already concerned by the impact of mainland visitors on the city's infrastructure and resources.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced on Friday the creation of a taskforce that would work with the mainland authorities for the next three weeks to examine the impact of the influx on the city. A Hong Kong government spokesman confirmed that no entry permits from any of the six cities would be issued in the next 21 days.

The taskforce's work was expected to be complete before the first visitors arrived, given that it usually takes 15 working days to process a permit application.

Ten members of environmental protection group Green Sense marched to the government offices in Admiralty yesterday to protest about the multi-entry permits.

They said the influx would cause serious social and environmental problems to the already congested city and released balloons labelled with "congestion", "inflation" and other problems.

Meanwhile, police reinforcements are being drafted in to manage chaos at an MTR station already packed with cross-border traders even before the new rules are implemented.

Sheung Shui MTR station - the last stop on the East Rail Line before the Lo Wu border checkpoint - has become the focal point of the kind of cross-border trading highlighted by Tourism Board chairman James Tien Pei-chun as a danger that will rise as non-permanent residents of Shenzhen are allowed multi-entry permits. At peak times, police and MTR staff already struggle to maintain order as hundreds of traders loaded with goods pass through the on multiple daily trips over the border.

Pictures taken earlier this month show how traders have proliferated to such an extent that they are causing an obstruction requiring police action.

Police say the trade in parallel imports does not breach Hong Kong laws, but the traders "create considerable street management problems". As well as queuing to take goods across the border, goods including Apple computers are being openly traded on the streets of Sheung Shui, ready to be taken to the mainland. Tien warned last week the new rules would do little to attract "real tourists", adding: "A lot of those living in Shenzhen are factory workers. They have limited consumer power that may not help boost our economic activities."

But many in the tourism industry welcomed the scheme and linked Tien's comments to his candidacy for the New Territories East seat in the Legislative Council election.

Travel agencies have predicted a 20 per cent increase in trade as result of the changes while immigration officers' unions say an extra 400 staff are needed. Cross-border trade has exploded in recent years due to high inflation on the mainland and the rising value of the yuan.

Many traders ferry everyday items such as soft drinks, diapers and milk powder.

A police spokeswoman said the queues were a result of the MTR Corporation's enforcement of by-laws restricting the dimensions of luggage, which "required an increased police presence outside the station".

MTR spokesman Kendrew Wong said new measures had been brought in to control the traders, including a luggage size limit, additional barriers, no-waiting areas and a special by-laws inspection unit to manage passengers with bulky luggage who may be causing a nuisance.

Tien's rivals for the New Territories East seat are "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, Ip Wai-ming, Emily Lau Wai-hing, Angel Leung On-kay, Scarlett Pong Oi-lan, Elizabeth Quat, Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, Yau Wing-kwong, Gary Chan Hak-kan, Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, Gary Fan Kwok-wai, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, Wong Sing-chi, Raymond Ho Man-kit, Pong Yat-ming, Christine Fong Kwok-shan and Chan Kwok-keung.