Hong Kong's doors will be open for regular visits by 4.1 million non-permanent residents of Shenzhen from next month - despite the concerns of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying that the city will struggle to cope with more mainland visitors.
The announcement by Shenzhen authorities that multiple-entry permits will be available to millions of residents of the border city who do not hold hukou, or household registration documents, there prompted new concerns that Hong Kong's infrastructure would be overwhelmed and that visitors would compete with locals for resources.
Previously, non-permanent residents of Shenzhen had to return to their home provinces to apply for multiple-entry permits, although they have been allowed single-entry passes since 2010. Multiple-entry permits were made available to Shenzhen hukou holders in April 2009.
Dr Chan Kin-man, an associate professor at Chinese University's sociology department, said the likely influx of visitors would add pressure to the "already overloaded" city.
"The transport system is already very full - you can see it from how crowded the MTR carriages are during peak hours," he said. "They may also compete with local people for daily necessities, such as milk powder."
Leung said in June that mainland visitors had added to inflation in the city and "disrupted the livelihood" of residents in the New Territories, where many shopped for day-to-day goods.
"[Beijing] made the right decision in not expanding the individual visit scheme over the past five years," Leung said.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board welcomed the potential boost to visitor numbers.
But Michael Wu Siu-ying, chairman of the Travel Industry Council, expressed concerns over the pressure that the rising number of visitors would put on border checkpoints, increasing the queuing time for each tourist.
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said yesterday that the Immigration Department was encouraging Shenzhen residents with multi-entry permits to use unmanned e-channels to speed up their entry. Some 270 million residents of 49 mainland cities are eligible to apply for multiple-entry permits, but this is the first time the scheme has been extended to those who do not hold hukou.
To be eligible, non-permanent residents will have to have paid social insurance in Shenzhen for a full year and hold an upgraded ID card.
The influx of mainland visitors has become a bone of contention for Hongkongers. They have been blamed for everything from driving up rents and forcing small businesses out of shopping areas to putting pressure on health and education services by giving birth in the city.