In a major setback to Indian travellers, Hong Kong, the special administrative region of China, has announced that they will no longer provide visa-on-arrival entry for Indians. Starting from January 23 next year, Indian nationals will require pre-arrival registration to enter Hong Kong.
“The online service for ‘Pre-arrival Registration for Indian Nationals’ is now opened,” said the Hong Kong immigration department in an announcement on its official website. The notification also read, “Indian nationals must apply for and successfully complete pre-arrival registration online before they can visit or transit the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) visa-free (if seeking to enter the HKSAR during transit).”
This step is being seen as a huge setback for improving the trade relations and for foreign diplomacy.
The new guidelines
From next month, Indians travelling to Hong Kong will have to register online and complete all the pre-arrival formalities in advance, before the visit. Passport requirement is any Indian national with a passport valid for at least six months.
The applicants who clear the pre-arrival process will get a six-month pass. This is a multiple entry visa with a maximum duration of 14 days per visit.
The approval and registration are valid for six months or until the Indian passport linked to the registration expires. Whichever comes first.
However, those who hold a valid diplomatic or official passport, and those who have enrolled in e-challan service for frequent visits, are exempted from the online pre-registration.
Travellers in direct transit by air who don’t intend to leave the airport won’t need the pre-arrival registration.
People planning to visit Hong Kong for a period exceeding 14 days or for purposes other than travel — like employment, education or taking up residence – have to apply for a visa with the immigration department.
Indians had unconditional, visa-free entry to Hong Kong for 14 days.
Why a sudden change in visa policy?
According to Indian officials, Hong Kong wants to curb the number of asylum seekers from India, who are one of the largest contributors to the local economy.
Assistant Director of the Immigration Department, Ma Chi-Ming urged Indian visitors not to enter false data to increase their chance of entering Hong Kong to seek economic asylum. He said people found doing this will face legal consequences.
Hong Kong bears a history of major asylum recipients from south-east Asia since 1949 after the Chinese war ended. And now it has a vast number of asylum seekers from all over the world. The numbers increased gradually and by April 2015, there were 9900 international citizens seeking asylum. The majority of them belong to South East Asia and India.
The Hong Kong govt provides subsidised accommodation, free food and basic healthcare facilities free of cost to all waitlisted applicants, as they are not allowed to work till the visa is finalised. Due to this, they are witnessing long queues of international citizens, waiting for entry to their country.
It is also possible that China is putting pressure on Hong Kong. In 1997, Hong Kong became Special Administrative Region of China, after 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration came into force. China has been opposing India’s stand on Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet and lately Pakistan as well.