Foreign passport holders will not be issued short-stop visas at border checkpoints as part of a series of entry restrictions imposed by mainland authorities last week.
The move, in addition to a ban on multiple-entry visas, was revealed by local travel agents as security tightens ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
Travellers are now restricted to single- or double-entry visas valid for a month and three months respectively. Multiple-entry visas that have not expired are still valid. Travel agents say they have been told the ban will last until mid-October.
Michael Wu Siu-ieng, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents, said that, since last Tuesday, the Office of the Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong had been processing all applications for mainland visas.
'In the past, travellers could apply for short-stop visas when they arrived at the border. But we were told the authorities there were no longer handling applications,' he said.
Mr Wu said the new rules applied to travel agencies that applied for or renewed visas on behalf of visitors at checkpoints.
A spokeswoman for the commissioner's office said the changes were due to 'computer system upgrades'. She refused to say when the previous practice would be resumed.
According to the office's website, updated last Tuesday, visa applicants will have to wait for at least one day for the 'rush service' and two days for 'express service'. Previously, same-day service was available.
'A longer waiting time is expected as all visa applications are handled by one office,' Mr Wu said.
Carole Howlett, a Hong Kong resident who holds a multiple-entry visa, said the restrictions were an inconvenience for foreigners who might simply want to do some shopping in Shenzhen. 'The restriction is disgusting. Many of my friends will have to think again before crossing the border because they will have to apply for visas days before,' she said.
Mr Wu understands the tightening of entry restrictions is related to the Olympics. 'Of course we hope they are merely temporary measures,' he said.
Tourism sector legislator Howard Young, a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the restrictions were understandable.