American trade body urges visa-free access for Hongkongers

Such a measure would boost tourism and other US businesses, but one commentator sees little chance of it happening

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 8:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 10:53pm

The American Chamber of Commerce has called on the US government to grant visa-free travel status for Hong Kong SAR passport holders, a measure that would smooth the way for over 100,000 visitors a year.

The suggestion was made at the annual meeting in Washington last month between chamber leaders and figures from the administration, congress and think tanks.

Chamber chairman Walter Dias said: “We understand that the current administration is focused on bilateral trade agreements and asked for more government-to-government engagement to ensure US interests are represented in the Asia Pacific region.

“Representatives from the congressional offices and the administration are also open to the idea of including Hong Kong in the visa waiver programme, noting the great US-HK relations at both government and citizens levels.”

Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are already in the waiver programme.

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In a speech during the symposium, the US consul general in Hong Kong and Macau, Kurt Tong, said he believed the country should explore including the city in the waiver programme.

He said over 100,000 Hong Kong passport holders visited America each year.

“By the usual metrics, Hong Kong should more than qualify,” Tong said.

“Nothing would send a stronger signal of the high value we place on Hong Kong’s superior rule of law and governance than providing this privilege to the Hong Kong people.

“The [programme] would of course also provide an important boost to tourism and other US businesses, increasing travel to the United States as well as job-creating investment in the United States. It would be good to have more pocketbook-toting Hongkongers travelling to the United States rather than other destinations like Europe or Canada, where they don’t need visas.”

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But Tong noted that the country had been unable to proceed with such negotiation due to the absence of legislation that would allow the programme to include a sub-national jurisdiction which issues its own passports, such as Hong Kong.

Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said granting Hong Kong visa-free status had been discussed since the city returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, but the US government had hesitated even when the Sino-US relationship was good.

Lau said the US government might be worried about opening the door to large numbers of mainland Chinese who had gained Hong Kong SAR passports after staying for seven years.

“From the perspective of the business chamber, [waiving visas] will bring economic benefits,” Lau said. “But unless there is bigger political incentive for the US government, it is unlikely that the government will allow this to happen soon.”