for LegCo Panel on Security
Visa-free access for
Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region (HKSAR) passport holders
This paper updates Members on the Administration's efforts to promote visa-free access for HKSAR passport holders.
2. We are committed to securing maximum travel convenience for HKSAR passport holders both for business and pleasure. Such convenience is essential to the development of trade, business and tourism ties with foreign countries. To this end, the HKSAR Government has been authorised by the Central People's Government (CPG) to negotiate visa-free access for HKSAR passport holders.
On-going efforts and results so far
3. The Administration has taken every available opportunity to lobby foreign countries for visa-free access for HKSAR passport holders. Apart from raising the issue with relevant Embassies and Consulates, the Chief Executive and other senior officials have put our case to their foreign counterparts whenever an opportunity arises. Our Economic and Trade Offices have been calling on government officials and Parliamentary members to solicit their support. To demonstrate the integrity of our immigration control system and HKSAR passport production system, we regularly invite senior foreign officials and visa/immigration experts to visit Hong Kong to look at our boundary control and the passport production procedures on the ground.
4. Thanks to the above mentioned efforts, visa-free access to 58 countries/territories has been secured for HKSAR passport holders. Details are at Annex A. Australia has also decided to extend the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) system1 to Hong Kong with effect from 1 July this year.
Proposed Lobbying Strategy
European Union (EU)/Schengen Member States2
5. Lobbying has been made at both political and working levels in the EU/Schengen Member States. The Chief Executive, the Chief Secretary for Administration and the Financial Secretary have respectively raised the visa issue during their official trips to Europe. Our Senior Representative in Brussels has called on his key contacts both in Belgium and at capitals. The Secretary for Security and Director of Immigration have met with the Consuls General in Hong Kong. Moreover, sponsored visits have been arranged for European officials to see for themselves the situation here.
6. The United Kingdom and Ireland have already granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders. Since the handover, Italy and Germany have also agreed to issue multiple-entry Schengen visas of extended validity to HKSAR passport holders who are frequent travellers. The European Parliament and European Commission have both gone on record in supporting Hong Kong's quest for visa-free access. We have also secured the support of several Member States including Italy and the BENELUX countries.
7. In November 1998, the Secretary for Security wrote a letter to the German Minister of Interior, Mr Otto Schily setting out our detailed arguments and formally requesting him to initiate a review of visa treatment for HKSAR passport holders. This letter has been handed down to a technical group of the Schengen Member States for detailed consideration. We are continuing with our active lobbying work, particularly in respect of the less forthcoming countries. A table showing the visa requirements of the EU/Schengen countries is at Annex B.
8. We will continue to lobby the EU for visa-free access for HKSAR passport holders by soliciting the support of the more lukewarm countries, encouraging the visit of their Ministry of Interior experts to Hong Kong or alternatively sending a team of immigration experts to Europe to further understanding of the immigration control and passport issuing systems in Hong Kong.
Eastern European Countries
9. Eastern European countries refer to Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovak Republic. We have already written to the Embassies of these countries in Beijing or approached their local Consulates to propose visa abolition talks. Hungary has indicated its willingness to discuss, while the others have not responded yet. We will continue to follow up with their representatives here or in Beijing.
Commonwealth of Independent States
10. The 12 Commonwealth of Independent States are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Two-way movements of people between these countries and Hong Kong are low and we are assessing the case for mutual abolition of visa requirement in the light of practical needs.
Rest of Europe
11. Three other European countries/territories have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders: Croatia, Gibraltar and San Marino. We will approach the other European countries in due course.
North, Central and South America
12. The following 6 countries/territories in the region have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders: Canada, Bermuda, Chile, Peru, St. Helena and Suriname.
13. The Mexican Government has expressed an interest in having visa abolition talks with us. We have begun discussions with the Mexican Consul-General, and in November 1998 with the Deputy Minister for Migratory Affairs of the Ministry of Interior of Mexico then visiting Hong Kong. Good progress has been made and discussions will continue.
14. We are in contact with the Consuls General of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela. In mid 1998, the Financial Secretary visited Argentina and Brazil and raised the issue of visa-free access. We will invite officials of the two countries to visit Hong Kong and may consider sending immigration officials to visit countries in the region.
15. Letters requesting visa-free access have been sent to Belize, Ecuador and Falkland Islands. Meanwhile, Colombia has expressed an interest in discussing visa abolition arrangements with Hong Kong.
16. The following 7 countries/territories in the Caribbean have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders: Bahamas, Commonwealth of Dominica, Jamaica, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago. Of the other countries/dependencies in the region, some have granted visa-free access to British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport holders. Lobbying letters have been sent to them to ask for the same treatment to be given to HKSAR passport holders.
17. The following 12 countries/territories in Asia have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders: Bangladesh, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand. We are lobbying Japan through its consulate in Hong Kong. The Financial Secretary has raised the subject of visa-free access with the Japanese Government during his recent visit to Japan. We will approach the other Asian countries such as Bhutan, Brunei and India at an appropriate time.
18. The following 4 countries in the Middle East have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders: Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Lobbying letters have been sent to Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Oceania and Pacific Islands
19. The following 8 countries/territories in the Oceania and Pacific Islands have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, New Zealand, Northern Mariana Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu. We have contacted the Honorary Consul of Fiji and sent lobbying letters to Cook Islands, Guam, Niue, Palau, Tonga and Tuvalu.
Africa and Indian Ocean
20. The following 16 countries/territories in Africa and the Indian Ocean have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders: Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Lobbying letters have been sent to the other African countries.
21. We will continue with our efforts to lobby for visa-free access for HKSAR passport holders. EU countries, which are among the most popular tourist destinations and major trading partners of Hong Kong, will continue to be our priority targets. The position taken by the EU will likely have a decisive effect on other European countries who adopt similar visa policy or are about to join EU. We are prepared to send our officials to the Schengen Members States to explain our case and to invite key personnel from these countries to come to Hong Kong to view our boundary control and passport production procedures. Moreover, we will strengthen our work in other regions such as South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. We will review our lobbying tactics in the light of evolving circumstances.
1Australia operates an ETA system, an "invisible" electronic stored authority for travel to Australia for short-term tourist or business entry. The ETA replaces the visa label in a passport. Travel agents and airlines are able to obtain clearance for their clients to travel to Australia within seconds via computer links with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
2Schengen Member States refer to some EU Member States which have signed the Schengen Agreement. Under the Agreement, these countries undertake to adopt a common policy on the movement of persons and in particular on the arrangements for visas. Holders of Schengen visas are free to travel within the territories of these countries up to a maximum of three months in a six-month period starting from the date of first entry. The presidency of the Schengen group is currently held by Germany.