All Guangdong residents will be eligible to apply to visit HK on an individual basis within the next six months The solo travel scheme from the mainland to Hong Kong will be extended to the whole of Guangdong in the next six months, giving a further boost to the city's tourism sector and the economy. Residents from the rest of the province will be allowed to make solo trips in two stages, officials from both sides said after the annual boundary liaison review meeting in Guangzhou yesterday. Since July, people living in eight Guangdong cities have been able to visit Hong Kong without having to join tour groups. Under the policy, a maximum of 2,000 people a day from each of the cities can make solo trips. Residents of Beijing and Shanghai have also been able to apply to travel to Hong Kong on an individual basis since September. Huang Ziqiang, director-general of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the Guangdong provincial government, said 1.23 million individual visit permits had been issued, of which 600,000 have been used. Mr Huang said the exact timetable for extending the scheme would have to be decided by the central government. Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said they would like to expand the scheme as soon as possible, but traveller capacity at the border posed a problem. Mr Huang said: 'We understand that the scheme has an important effect on the economic stability and prosperity in Hong Kong, as well as the co-operation and exchanges for both sides, but the capacity at the border crossing is limited. We have to do it step-by-step.' He said it was not certain whether the first batch of visitors allowed under the extended arrangement would arrive before the Lunar New Year. Both officials said statistics showed that the incidences of solo travellers committing crimes in Hong Kong was not serious. People who have worked illegally during visits to Hong Kong are not eligible to receive permits to travel to the special administrative region on an individual basis for five years. Residents who have a criminal record, or have been sentenced to reform through labour, are not entitled to apply for solo visits. The officials declined to comment on the surge in the number of mainlanders on business visas who were committing crimes in Hong Kong. But they acknowledged that the problem of mainlanders working illegally had worsened. Arrests of mainland women for prostitution had also increased. They said both sides would maintain close co-operation and step up their efforts to exchange intelligence to crack down on criminals. They noted that their collaborative efforts had helped curb illegal immigration and overstaying by mainlanders. Last year, the number of cross-border travellers exceeded 100 million, an increase of 10.4 per cent over 2001. Due to the Sars outbreak, the number of cross-border passengers this year dropped 3.2 per cent before rebounding quickly after the outbreak subsided. Cross-border vehicle traffic increased by 9 per cent last year and grew a further 4.4 per cent this year.