Beijing’s offer to Foreigners aims to make HK more attractive

July 09, 2024 23:28

As from July 10, the 270,000 non-Chinese permanent residents in Hong Kong and Macao can apply for a five-year visa that allows them to stay in the mainland for up to 90 days at a time.

This was announced by China’s Exit and Entry Administration on July 1, which marked the 27th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR.

This is a major concession to the foreign residents and will greatly facilitate their visits to the mainland. It aims to make Hong Kong and Macao more attractive to foreigners and offset their flight from China. Since 2010, the number of foreign residents in China has been falling, a flight that accelerated during Covid.

HK Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said that many non-Chinese Hong Kong permanent residents had deep family roots in the SAR and had made notable contributions to the city. “Foreign professionals working in Hong Kong are also eager to seize the historic opportunities arising from the nation’s rapid economic development and get more involved in making the Greater Bay Area (GBA) a world-class region.

“The measure is not limited to any nationality or industry, fully reflecting Hong Kong’s unique status under “one country, two systems, It will greatly help the city maintain its international character and diversity, providing a significant incentive for companies and professionals from around the world to settle in Hong Kong,” he said.

The measure will also make GBA property more attractive to the foreign residents. The convenience of the visa makes a second home in Zhuhai, Zhongshan and other cities accessible and convenient.
The foreigners must apply to the Hong Kong or Macao offices of China Travel Service. They will process the application within 20 days of the official acceptance date. The first-time fee is HK$260. For many, it will facilitate what was previously a cumbersome process of applying for individual visas.

Those holding the five-year visa are not allowed to work, study or do news coverage. These activities require a separate visa.

Foreign chambers of commerce, including the American and European, welcomed the initiative, saying that it would improve connections across the border and facilitate business operations within the GBA.

Muhammad Fakhrul Islam Babu, general secretary of the China Bangladesh Friendship, described the decision as a milestone.

“Historically, ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, despite being permanent residents, have faced considerable challenges in obtaining visas to enter the mainland. The new permit simplifies the process and recognises the non-Chinese permanent residents’ contribution to the city’s development,” he said.

The decision comes against a fall in the number of foreigners in Hong Kong and the mainland and intense competition for talent from Singapore, Taipei, Seoul and cities in the Middle East.

The number of foreign residents in China has fallen since 2010, and the flight accelerated during the Covid pandemic of 2020 to 2022. The percentage of foreign residents in China is 0.02 per cent, a miniscule number for the world’s second largest economy. In South Korea and Japan, the figure is more than two per cent, in Germany 11 per cent.

According to the seventh national census, the number of French citizens in the mainland fell by 40 per cent from 15,087 to 9,196 in the decade that ended in November 2020. The number of Americans fell by 23 per cent from 71,000 to 55,000. The number of German, Italian, South Korean and Japanese citizens also declined. In Shanghai, the number of foreigners fell from 208,000 in 2011 to 163,000 in 2021.

Over the last five years, China’s relations with the West, Japan and South Korea have deteriorated. On traditional and social media, there is a relentless drumbeat of anti-Western and anti-Japanese propaganda.

Earlier this month the Japanese consulate in Shanghai issued a stern warning to its citizens: “please be very mindful of your surroundings when you go out,” it said. This followed a deadly knife attack on a school bus full of Japanese children near Shanghai last month. A Chinese bus attendant was killed and a Japanese woman and child were wounded.

Last month, four teachers from a US college were knifed in a park in Jilin in the northeast.

Senior officials warn constantly of threats to national security and introduce regulations on what may be said on the Internet. A counterespionage law has made it dangerous to conduct due diligence, auditing, consulting or market research -- individuals fear being charged with spying.

All this makes foreigners unwilling to accept a long-term posting in China. The pandemic also taught foreign companies how to use expatriates based overseas and to use their Chinese employees to replace those who had left.

So, through granting these new five-year visas, Beijing wants to improve the attractiveness of China and make it easier for foreigners to visit. The visas will also help to counter the opinion that the environment for foreigners in Hong Kong is deteriorating.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.