Excitement builds for some as applications open for new ID card for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents in mainland China – but others are not so sure
Smart cards promise easy access to a wide range of social and public services for those who have been living, working or studying there for at least six months
Hongkonger Patrick Ho, 23, a university student in Zhuhai, is all set to apply for a new identity card to use in mainland China.
Applications open on September 1 for mainland residents from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and the smart cards promise easy access to a wide range of social and public services.
“I want to be the first to try the crabs,” Ho said, using a Chinese expression that refers to being the first to try something new.
“It’s more meaningful to make my application on the first day.”
Ho, who studies at the Zhuhai campus of Sun Yat-sen University, has gathered all the required documents, including copies of his travel permit and photographs, and proof of residence confirmed by his university. On Saturday, he will go to Tangjia police station near his campus and fill a form.
If all goes well, he will receive his smart card within 20 working days.
Announced by China’s public security authority on August 16, the smart card is for people from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan who have been living, working or studying on the mainland for at least six months.
The smart card promises holders the same rights as mainlanders in accessing 18 types of public schemes and services, including employment, participation in social insurance and housing fund schemes, free primary and junior secondary education and basic medical care.
Ho is looking forward to conveniences his current home return permit – a travel document issued by the mainland authorities for Hong Kong and Macau residents – does not provide.
“I must wait in long queues to have my train tickets printed before boarding whereas my mainland Chinese friends can simply tap their smart identity cards at the departure gate and get on the train,” he said. “And a major taxi calling app does not accept the eight-digit code on my home return permit.”
The new smart card will have an 18-digit code just like mainland citizens’ ID card and is supposed to allow easier access to various public and private services systems.
The code for people from Hong Kong will start with “810000”, “820000” for those from Macau and “830000” for those from Taiwan.
About 520,000 Hongkongers live in Guangdong alone, and more than 15,000 Hong Kong students are studying in universities across the mainland, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said when the scheme was announced.
The Tangjia police station Ho is going to on Saturday is one of 386 stations across Guangdong that will be handling applications. Although it is usually closed on weekends, the Tangjia station will be open from 8.30am to 5.30pm on Saturday and Sunday with a lunchtime break.
Outside Guangdong, 4,314 public security stations across 22 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions as well as 1,217 service counters in Fujian province will be open for applications from September 1.
Sample images released by the Beijing public security authority on Thursday show the permit looks similar to the smart ID card for mainland Chinese.
Besides the 18-digit code, the permit will also contain information including the holder’s travel permit code, registered address, photograph and fingerprints.
Speaking on August 16 when the new smart card was announced, city leader Lam said it would provide “full coverage” for holders. “Many of the concerns and requests I have learned of from Hongkongers living on the mainland are resolved and fulfilled.”
While Ho was excited about the new smart card, some were holding back for the moment.
Kingstein Ng, a 29-year-old business professional in Shenzhen who has spent a decade on the mainland, said his experience suggests all may not be plain sailing for someone like him.
“The permit will indeed bring me some convenience, but I am uncertain about one thing: will my application be rejected by the Shenzhen authorities because I have been in the city for less than half a year since I arrived from Hangzhou in May?” he said.
Ng said official systems in different mainland cities are often not connected, and local governments do not always recognise documents issued somewhere else.
He worked for two years as a consultant in Beijing, and when he left for Hangzhou to take up another position in the same company, he was asked to apply for a work permit from square one, despite having a letter of reference from the Beijing government.
When he moved to Shenzhen to take up a job with another company, the authorities made him apply for a work permit all over again too, as if he had just arrived on the mainland.
So he is waiting before he applies for the new smart card.
“I wonder if the Shenzhen authority will ignore my previous valid residence,” he said.
“I’d better decide after seeing how others’ applications are handled.”