IMMIGRATION officials are considering issuing electronic visas to Taiwanese in a bid to attract more visitors and bolster the recovering tourism market. The hassle-free visas, which have been pioneered in Australia, are the subject of feasibility studies expected to finish next month. The studies are also examining plans to issue a smart card to replace the basic identity cards Hong Kong residents are forced by law to carry. But the ID card upgrade is likely to run into opposition from the Democrats, who fear the massive reissuing exercise would be used as an opportunity by authorities to update and expand personal data records. A $9 million consultancy study is being conducted by the international travel data group Sita, based in France, and subcontractors. It is looking at the Immigration Department's computer systems and examining the feasibility of smart cards. The study is expected to be completed next month. The smart cards carry an electronic microchip containing holders' personal data. Officials are considering whether they should also hold data such as fingerprints, eye iris patterns or voice patterns. Legislative Council security panel chairman James To Kun-sun said undertaking such a massive reissuing exercise would have to be justified. As well as being inconvenient to the millions of card holders who would have to make a trip to immigration offices, people would be reluctant to divulge more personal details, he said. There were fears the Government would use the exercise to try to discover which people had taken out foreign citizenship, a highly sensitive issue for residents, said Mr To, a Democrat. He was indirectly referring to concerns among liberals that mainland authorities are seeking to increase their records on Hong Kong residents. Smart-card expert Greg Pote said he expected the only sticking point would be whether biological data was stored on a central database or only on the cards. Such data would be used to ensure the holder was the individual identified on the card, he said. 'To issue a smart ID card I don't think they need any more information than they have got,' said Mr Pote, general manager of the Asia Pacific Smart Card Association. 'Immigration records already record the fingerprints of ID card holders,' he said. He believed officials wanted to issue smart cards so they could set up automatic gates at the airport, sea and land border entry points to reduce staffing requirements. The Immigration Department is remaining tight-lipped about the proposals. Taiwanese visitors already enjoy reduced visa requirements. It is expected electronic visas could be issued by travel agents or airlines within minutes. This would involve an electronic form being transmitted from Taiwan to Hong Kong for approval.