Indian travellers will not be eligible for visa-free entry to Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, from January, when a “pre-arrival registration” process will be put in place.
Indian nationals can currently enter Hong Kong without a visa for a period of up to 14 days.
“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,” Hong Kong’s immigration department announced on its website.
“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 department said.
The pre-arrival registration is valid for six months, during which the applicant can visit Hong Kong multiple times. Indian nationals must furnish an “approval slip” before boarding a plane or ship to the city.
The new rules will affect hundreds of thousands of Indians who visit the former British colony every year for tourism and trade. According to the latest figures, 561,625 Indian tourists visited Hong Kong last year, a rise of 22% compared to 2013. In the first 11 months of this year alone, 474 615 Indians visited the city.
Immigration department assistant director Ma Chi-ming told the South China Morning Post newspaper that India was chosen as a “testing point” because it is one of the major sources of asylum-seekers. “We do not rule out extending the scheme to other countries in the future,” he said.
This is the first time Hong Kong has implemented such a restriction for a country. Among the total of 10,335 pending refugee applications in the city, 80% are from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
The only Indians exempted from pre-arrival registration are holders of diplomatic or official passports or a Hong Kong Travel Pass, and Indian nationals who have successfully enrolled for the e-Channel service for frequent visitors.
Last year, Hong Kong authorities had dropped plans to scrap visa-free entry for Indians after representations from business and tourism bodies. Indian visitors are among the largest spenders contributing to the local economy.
Some reports also suggested the new rules were being introduced because of pressure from China.
Immigration department official Ma Chi-ming also said Indian visitors should not enter fake data to try to improve their chances of entering Hong Kong to seek economic asylum. “If we doubt travel purpose at the counter, we can still refuse (entry),” he said.
“Giving fake information on the registration form is liable to prosecution,” Ma said, adding those who use a false instrument could face 14 years in jail.
Information provided by Indian nationals during online registration, including their travel history and local itinerary, will be used by an automated system to assess risks and issue an instant result. The immigration department had evaluated the backgrounds of Indian asylum-seekers and had come up with “a group of combined factors” to review travellers, Ma said.