One of my favourite cities in the world is Hong Kong. I’ve been there numerous times on work and play, and Hong Kong has had an easy regime for most countries to let visitors in. As an Indian passport holder, I got a 14-day entry permit free of cost to enter HK. Heck, due to my frequent visits, I even was registered with the express service (called ‘e-channel), which got me a barcode at the back of my passport, the only thing I needed to scan into a machine and walk through.
However, this will change as of January 23, 2017. Over half-a-million Indians visit Hong Kong every year, and this is going to be a major setback for them. Hong Kong is switching to a new system for Indian visitors, where a pre-registration will be made mandatory on a website which will be called Pre-Arrival Registration for Indian Nationals.
As per the notification on the website of the Hong Kong Immigration Department, Indians transiting the airport won’t need to complete the pre-arrival registration formalities, however, those planning to enter the country would need it.
How does it work?
Going forward, if you plan to enter Hong Kong as an Indian citizen, you would need to access the website and input all your details on the form, after which a notification slip will be generated and you will instantly know your eligibility to enter the country.
You need to carry a print of this notification slip to take with you and present to the immigration officer. There are no charges for the pre-arrival registration, and the notification slip is not exactly a Visa, but a record of your entry into the country which will perhaps have more details captured than the earlier system. The pre-arrival notification is valid for 6 months, and per the department, one can make multiple visits during the period to HKSAR visa free. Every time, a 14 day stay would be allowed.
Frequent Visitors can still bypass it
The Hong Kong Immigration Department for years has offered the e-channel program, which allows visitors to quickly walk through the gates of Hong Kong immigration. This enrollment is very simple, and if you are a JetPrivilege or a Cathay Pacific elite member, you should be able to get it on arrival in Hong Kong after filling up a simple form and a short Q&A with the officer. Else, you should have visited Hong Kong at least 3 times in 12 months before enrollment for the service.
This seems like a half-hearted move from Hong Kong. Either ask us to apply for a Visa or have the same rules as the rest of the world. This is somewhere in between. The official line is that this is a pilot and I am not sure how will this help HK nail down on the people who may become refugees after arriving into the country. Regardless, this is just an irritant and should not stop us from visiting the country in the future.