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  • Updated: 10:06am
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Residents upset US visa-free status continues to evade HK

Residents unhappy over US move to grant Taiwan visa-free status while denying HK the same right despite years of lobbying

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 3:11pm

Travel and business leaders have expressed frustration that Hongkongers continue to be denied visa-free access to the US, after it was announced that the privilege would be extended to Taiwan beginning next month.

"It's disappointing, because we've been asking for it for quite some time, and they still won't give it to us," Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Ya-chung said yesterday. "We behave well, never cause trouble and spend handsomely, so why do they give it to Taiwan and not Hong Kong?"

The Hong Kong government has for many years been lobbying the US government for admission to the list of countries on the Visa Waiver Programme where pre-approved, low-risk travellers can travel to the US visa-free for tourism or business for up to 90 days. The last discussion on the issue took place last November, when then Chief Executive Donald Tsang meet US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Taiwan on November 1 will become the 37th country or territory on the list, which includes the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It is the fifth Asian member, after Brunei, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong president Richard Vuylsteke said the chamber had also been lobbying the US State and Homeland Security departments for more than five years, the last time in June.

"It's not for the lack of trying," he said, adding that the process had hit some snags but was still on the table. He could not say exactly what the snags were.

"All of the reasons Taiwan was approved ... Hong Kong is also very strong in," he said. "My private speculation is they don't know how to handle mainland Chinese with [Hong Kong] resident status."

Vuylsteke said Hong Kong as a special administrative region of China was a special case. "Of course, Taiwan is not a one-on-one equivalent. It has a different kind of status."

The US consulate in Hong Kong said that because many factors were involved in qualifying for the programme, "we cannot predict the length of time it will take for Hong Kong to meet all of the requirements".

Vuylsteke, who was formerly president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, said the Taiwanese government had worked closely with the State and Homeland Security departments to iron out the kinks in the details.

A University of Hong Kong politics specialist said that by granting Taiwan the visa waiver, Washington was rewarding president Ma Ying-jeou's government for lifting its ban on US beef earlier this year.

Richard Hu, an associate professor from the University of Hong Kong's politics and public administration department, said the move would boost tourism from Taiwan to the US, but that the decision was more a politically motivated gesture than an economic-based decision.

"Hong Kong already has the 10-year multiple entry visa arrangement. Both sides don't [have] any urgency to upgrade it to the visa waiver programme," said Hu.

Last year, there were 128,512 Hong Kong visitors to the US and 131,712 the previous year.

US President Barack Obama had said earlier that the Taiwan move was to bolster tourism. Ma has been lobbying the US government since 2008 to make Taiwan part of the Visa Waiver Program.

Currently, 147 countries and territories grant visa-free access or visa-on-arrival facilities to HKSAR passport holders, according to the Hong Kong government. These include the US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The government would not confirm when it began negotiating with the US on the waiver programme.

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This article is now closed to comments

lucifer
Have you ever traveled on an HKSAR passport? Try going to Eastern or Central Europe or South America and you will have a jolly good time being held up in at immigration trying to explain to the immigration officer that an HKSAR passport is different than a mainland Chinese passport….
blue
My wife had no problems traveling to Poland and Germany with her HKSAR passport. Of course there are certainly going to be ignoramus immigration officers in those countries who don't understand that their own countries offer a visa waiver for HKSAR passports, but how is that Hong Kong's fault? These officers who don't understand the difference between a HKSAR passport and a mainland one are complete idiots and not qualified for the job they're doing.
Soon I'll have my own HKSAR passport so I'll have first hand experience.
saimax
Yup some of the immigration officers are cheeky. Hk passport is bio metric. The moment they swipe your passport they can see in their system that it has visa free access. They just act dumb to finger around.
Camel
" "We behave well, never cause trouble and spend handsomely, so why do they give it to Taiwan and not Hong Kong?"
Because they need Taiwans support and at the same time non-support for the Island Dispute?
Next on the US Agenda is: the consideration of Taiwan being a sovereign/independent state.
norodnik
Camel, pull your head out of the red sand.....Hong Kong is as sleuthy as Vienna was during the heights of the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s....too many Red Capitalists that (1) work for dodgy State-owned conglomerates, that (2) are beholding to the CCP, and (3) most likely hold an extensive financial portfolio created by stealing the wealth of the People and exiting the funds via Hong Kong i.e., money laundering....who would roll out the carpet for a bunch like that?
blue
Here we go again, more red scare rhetoric from norodnik.
aplucky1
this is what happens when you sell passports to the mainlanders, deal with it
pyklib
LOL yeah I get you point. I also feel unease with the word "China" on the front cover of my SAR passport. In all political and diplomatic levels US just don't trust the communists. We are pigeonholed to our motherland whether we like it or not and yes, profiling does exist !
With all the money and time spend on foreign soil during my immigration paid off and with a Canadian passport I don't have to get stuck in this petty predicament.
pyklib
LOL yeah I get you point. I also feel unease with the word "China" on the front cover of my SAR passport. In all political and diplomatic levels US just don't trust the communists. We are pigeonholed to our motherland whether we like it or not and yes, profiling does exist !
With all the money and time spend on foreign soil during my immigration paid off and with a Canadian passport I don't have to get stuck in this petty predicament.
norodnik
....don't even need to sell HK passports to mainlanders...you can hire them directly for your transition team...and then run the show...

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