Hong Kong has withdrawn the visa-free entry facility for Indians and will introduce a pre-arrival registration from January 2017.
"The Pre-arrival Registration for Indian Nationals will be implemented on January 23, 2017. The online service for 'Pre-arrival Registration for Indian Nationals' is now opened. Indian nationals must apply for and successfully complete pre-arrival registration online before they can visit or transit the HKSAR visa-free (if seeking to enter the HKSAR during transit). Pre-arrival registration is not required for Indian nationals in direct transit by air and not leaving the airport transit area," the Hong Kong Immigration Department announced on its official website on Tuesday.
The pre-arrival registration is valid for six months, allowing the applicant to visit Hong Kong multiple times during that period. However, Indian nationals must furnish an "approval slip" before boarding a plane or ship to the city.
The decision comes as a major setback for more than half a million Indians who visit Hong Kong — a Special Administrative Region of China — for vacations, trade and business purposes.
Indians could enter the former British colony with a valid passport for a period of 14 days without a visa until this new move was announced. The visa-entry facility has been withdrawn despite the increase in the number of asylum seekers from India, Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted official sources as saying. According to Indian officials, Hong Kong is using the asylum seekers as an excuse to deny visa-free entry facility to Indians.
According to Indian officials, Hong Kong is using asylum seekers as an excuse to deny visa-free entry facility to Indians.
Indians are one of the largest contributors to the local economy in Hong Kong due and the new rules would affect thousands of Indians who visit the city every year. The latest figures suggest that 561,625 Indian tourists visited Hong Kong in 2015, a 22 percent increase from 2013. Around 474,615 Indians visited the city in the first 11 months of 2016.
The South China Morning Post quoted Hong Kong's Immigration Department Assistant Director Ma Chi-ming as saying that visitors from India should not enter false data in an attempt to increase their chances of entering the city for asylum because there would be legal repercussions.
"If we doubt travel purpose at the counter, we can still refuse (entry). Giving fake information on the registration form is liable to prosecution," Ma said, adding that those who provide false data could face 14 years in jail.
Ma, who is in charge of visas and policies, said the measure would be reviewed soon after its launch and considered a pilot scheme, according to local media reports.
"We picked India as a testing point as it was one of the major source countries. We do not rule out extending the scheme to other countries in the future," Ma said. Eighty percent of the pending 10,335 refugee applications in Hong Kong are from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia, he added.
Only holders of diplomatic or official passports or a Hong Kong Travel Pass and Indian nationals who have enrolled for the e-Channel service for frequent visitors have been exempted from the pre-arrival registration scheme, the Hindustan Times reported.
The Indian Express quoted officials in India as saying that Hong Kong is an attractive destination for asylum seekers because it offers free food and stay till the requests are processed. They added that it was unfair for even the city's interests to deny visa-free entry facility to thousands of Indians who visit every year using legal documents by giving the excuse of a few hundred asylum seekers. The move could cause loss of revenue to Hong Kong, the officials further added.