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Greater Bay Area

New ID card will give Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents same access to public services as mainland Chinese counterparts

Policy will apply to more than 500,000 city residents living and studying across the border says Chief Executive Carrie Lam, with access to employment rights and social insurance among new benefits

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2018, 11:37am

More than half a million Hongkongers working and living in mainland China will now get identity cards granting them access to a wide range of social and public services across the border, including school places for children and a housing scheme.

Beijing on Thursday announced that residents from the city, Macau and Taiwan, could start applying for the new smart cards from September 1 to enjoy the same rights as their mainland Chinese counterparts in accessing 18 types of schemes and services.

“The [aim] is to make Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents able to enjoy public services and facilities in ways basically the same as mainland residents in their places of abode,” said Shi Jun, vice-minister of public security.

The announcement was hailed as a “breakthrough” by Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, as she wrapped up a two-day visit to Beijing, where she was part of a working group planning the next steps for the “Greater Bay Area” project, China’s ambitious economic integration scheme to build a financial and economic powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley.

“As far as the Hong Kong government knows, there are 520,000 Hongkongers living in Guangdong province, and more than 15,000 Hong Kong students in universities across the mainland,” Lam said.

Holders of the “Residence Permit” for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents are entitled to employment as well as participation in social insurance and housing fund schemes.

They will also get access to public services such as free primary and junior secondary education and basic medical care and legal aid. Registering their vehicles, applying for a driving licence, taking domestic flights and trains, and using various financial services will also become more convenient.

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Those who have been living, working and studying in mainland China for more than six months can apply for the permit from the public security authorities in the cities they are based in.

Submission of a valid travel document, proof of residence, employment or school enrolment will be required and cards should be issued within 20 working days.

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“Among the three rights, six services and nine conveniences, some have been rolled out separately, but the advantage of this permit is that it will provide a full-coverage solution,” Lam said.

“Many of the concerns and requests I have learned from Hongkongers living on the mainland are resolved and fulfilled.”

Since taking office last July, Lam has sought policy changes to make it easier for Hongkongers based across the border.

Several changes were announced after her first visit to Beijing as chief executive last December to meet President Xi Jinping, including allowing more Hong Kong children to study in public schools on the mainland, and letting Hongkongers working there contribute to a fund to help them own property.

On Wednesday, Lam announced several more changes, including the reduction of mobile roaming fees, making it easier to open a bank account on the mainland, and allowing payments there with a cyber wallet registered in Hong Kong.

Officials on Thursday said the 18-digit ID card codes would start with “810000” for Hong Kong, and “820000” for Macau.

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The new ID card is not a travel document and Hongkongers will have to use their home return permit, which has an eight-digit code, to cross the border.

Mainland Chinese citizens now use a smart ID card with an 18-digit code which has become a necessity for daily living, as they can use it to speedily board high-speed trains or make an appointment in a public hospital, among other conveniences.

Lam said the government would publicise the new permit through its offices in five mainland cities, and social and business associations made up of Hong Kong members.

“It doesn’t matter to us what the permit is called, the most important thing is that we need the code that can be recognised by machines and systems on the mainland to get public and private services,” said Wesley Chiu Bun, a legal professional living and working in Shanghai.

Sharon So Ching-yin, a postgraduate student at Peking University, said while the new ID card would bring some convenience to her everyday life, she wanted to know more about the practicalities of getting the permit.

“What will happen to accounts and services I registered for with my home return permit after I get a residence permit? Will I have to do the registration again or submit the new code for an update?” she wanted to know.

Chiu, who is also a director of the Shanghai Hong Kong Association, expected more than 200,000 Hongkongers living in Shanghai to benefit, although he did not see it helping people travelling frequently between Hong Kong and the mainland.

“But, progress should come step by step,” he said.