Hong Kong will control the number of people entering the city, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday amid growing pressure to delay the relaxation of permit rules that will allow millions more mainlanders to pay multiple visits.
"On the one hand we will control the number of people coming in," Leung said. "At the same time we will also step up facilities in various districts."
But he gave no details and immigration officers said controls would be difficult to impose without changes to the law.
Government opponents and allies, meanwhile, were preparing to mount a protest today calling for postponement of Shenzhen's decision to offer multiple-visit permits for Hong Kong to its 4.1 million non-permanent residents from next month.
Previously these were available only to the border city's 2.8 million holders of hukou or residents' permits. Non-permanent residents had to return to their home provinces to apply.
The likely influx following Shenzhen's announcement of the relaxation last week - apparently without consulting the Hong Kong government - fuelled concerns about inflation and further strain on infrastructure.
Green Sense protested outside the Immigration Department yesterday, demanding controls on the number of visitors crossing the border.
The Democratic Party will protest today, citing concerns over inflation and disturbance to city neighbourhoods.
The pro-government New Territories Association of Societies, whose honorary advisers include Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, will call for postponement of the permit rule changes.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said he would exchange views with the Security Bureau and mainland authorities on possible controls.
But the chairman of the Immigration Service Officers Association, Ngai Sik-shui, said it would be a complicated issue.
"Anyone with the right passport and permit, and with a genuine purpose for travelling, is allowed into Hong Kong," he said.
The Immigration Ordinance would have to be amended before any new controls were introduced, he said.
University of Hong Kong associate law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting said Hong Kong was entitled by law to impose immigration controls but there were bigger political concerns.
"If Hong Kong bluntly rejected the relaxation, would it affect its relationship with Shenzhen?" he asked.
Executive Councillor Bernard Chan said it was time for the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments to communicate on social issues.