Canada, the most popular destination for Hong Kong emigrants, has granted visa-free travel to Special Administrative Region passport holders. The long-awaited announcement lifted Hong Kong's hopes more countries would accept its post-handover travel document. It will make travel easier for an estimated 5.5 million SAR passport holders to visit relatives, take sightseeing tours or do business there. But Canada warned it could revoke the travel privilege should a wave of Hong Kong asylum-seekers arrive after the handover. The decision came after China earlier this week provided written support for an agreement to deport illegal immigrants to Hong Kong. 'Canada has an enormous stake in a smooth transition,' said Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, referring to the 500,000 Canadians who have Hong Kong origins and the 200,000 visitors from the territory each year. Canada was anxious to ensure it would be able to send back illegal immigrants. 'Right now we have some problems removing illegal immigrants to China. We did not want to have the same problem after July 1 with Hong Kong,' Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard said. Commissioner for Canada Garrett Lambert said visa-free access highlighted Ottawa's confidence in the transition. 'But there is the concern, given the transition and the uncertainties that still surround it, that a large number of people potentially could try to enter Canada illegally,' he said. 'We'll continue to monitor the situation and if necessary would be in a position to revoke the permission if that ever unfortunately became necessary.' While there were 'lingering concerns' corrupt mainland officials could try to obtain SAR passports, the visa-free decision showed Ottawa had faith in the integrity of the issuing system, he said. The announcement was welcomed as a confidence-booster for the blue-covered SAR passport which has so far failed to gain widespread visa-free acceptance. 'Ease of travel for Hong Kong people is necessary for maintaining the territory's position as a world-class centre for finance and trade,' said chief-executive designate Tung Chee-hwa. 'I trust other countries that have not yet decided on the issue will recognise the sound thinking that underlies the Canadian decision and follow suit.' Only Britain, Singapore and Western Samoa have exempted SAR passport holders from the time-consuming requirement of obtaining visas before travelling. Popular destinations for Hong Kong holidaymakers, Thailand and the Philippines, have refused visa-free access. Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said she would press the Thai Prime Minister and his deputy to offer visa free access to SAR passport holders when she visits Bangkok next week. Most of the 35,000 people applying for Canadian visas in Hong Kong each year are Certificate of Identity holders who will be able to obtain the SAR passport.