Mainland visa restrictions on foreigners in HK to be lifted

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 September, 2008, 12:00am

Mainland visa restrictions imposed on foreigners in Hong Kong during the Beijing Olympics last month will be lifted from October 16, travel agents say.

The long-awaited move will be a relief to many of the city's foreign businesspeople and tourists, who have been burdened with extra red tape over the past six months as the mainland increased security measures. The mainland has resumed visa-free arrangements for Singaporeans visiting for business or tourism, or transiting within 15 days. Visa-free access for Singaporeans was suspended on July 1.

Paul Leung Yiu-lam, a vice-chairman of the Association of Travel Agents, said the central government might have decided to wait until after the National Day holiday to relax the visa application processes.

Mr Leung said the restrictions had affected many visa arrangements, including the popular '144-hour' visa for groups of at least three tourists visiting Guangdong from Hong Kong by land. The 144-hour visa was banned throughout the Olympics, but would be reinstated from October 16 along with other visas, he said.

European Chamber of Commerce chairman Rafael Gil-Tienda said he had heard from members that visa arrangements would now be at 'a different level' following the closing ceremony of the Paralympics.

He said he did not have any first-hand information.

The chamber had been particularly worried and vocal about the impact of the restrictions since learning about six months ago that multiple-entry visas and short-visit visas to Shenzhen would be suspended.

This meant foreigners were restricted to single- or double-entry visas valid for up to three months.

Valid multiple-entry visas were unaffected.

Visa applicants also had to produce advance hotel reservations and return-flight bookings, which proved impractical for businessmen often needing to travel at short notice.

Nationals from 33 countries including South Africa, India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia were also told they could no longer obtain visas in Hong Kong unless they were residents.

Beijing granted visa-free access to overseas visitors accredited by the International Olympic Committee for a month before and after the Olympic Games. These visitors included journalists, athletes and support staff. The mainland already grants visa-free entry for visits of up to 15 days to citizens of Japan and Brunei.

Cold shoulder

The number of countries whose residents were told they could no longer obtain visas in Hong Kong for the mainland: 33