Granting of visa-free access to holders of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports （2016/06/01)
Following is a question by the Hon Yiu Si-wing and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (January 6):
According to the Visa Restrictions Index 2015 published by The Henley & Partners, with 152 countries/territories granting visa-free access or visa-on-arrival (collectively known as "visa-free access") to its passport holders, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) ranks the 16th, down two places from last year, and such a ranking is also lower than those of South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. It is learnt that in view of the increasing spending power of Chinese nationals in recent years, more and more countries have granted visa-free access to holders of Chinese passports, but some of such countries (e.g. Myanmar, Cambodia as well as Antigua and Barbuda) have not offered the same treatment to SAR passport holders. Moreover, some countries (e.g. Bolivia and Paraguay) whose nationals have been granted visa-free access by the SAR Government have not offered reciprocal treatment to SAR passport holders. Some members of the public have relayed to me that while the SAR Government was active in lobbying other countries/territories to grant visa-free access to SAR passport holders in earlier years, such lobbying efforts have come to a halt in recent years. Those members of the public consider that with the increasingly frequent economic, trading, cultural and tourism exchanges between Hong Kong and the international community, the SAR Government should resume its lobbying efforts. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the countries/territories which newly granted visa-free access to SAR passport holders in the past 10 years;
(2) whether it knows the countries/territories which at present have granted visa-free access to Chinese passport holders but have not offered the same treatment to SAR passport holders, and the reasons for such countries/territories adopting such a practice;
(3) of the countries/territories, among those whose passport holders have been granted visa-free access by the SAR Government, which have not offered reciprocal treatment to SAR passport holders at present, and whether it knows the reasons for such countries/territories adopting such a practice; and
(4) whether it has plans to resume lobbying efforts so that more countries/territories will grant visa-free access to SAR passport holders, thereby facilitating SAR residents to travel to such countries/territories for trade and tourism activities; if it does, of the details and objectives of its work?
The Special Administration Region (SAR) Government has all along been lobbying for visa-free access for SAR passport holders with a view to maximising travel convenience for Hong Kong residents. Apart from raising the issue with relevant Embassies and Consulates from time to time, Economic and Trade Offices of the SAR Government have called on government officials and parliamentary members of the countries/territories concerned to solicit their support to the granting of visa-free access to SAR passport holders. When calling on foreign officials and attending relevant international conferences and seminars, officials of the SAR Government also took the opportunity to lobby for and quest the granting of visa-free access to more countries/territories for SAR passport holders. Meanwhile, the SAR Government attaches great importance as well to promoting the SAR passport. Whenever an opportunity arises, we would invite senior foreign officials and diplomatic personnel visiting Hong Kong to take a look at SAR passport production procedures on the ground, and demonstrate to them the integrity of the production system and state-of-the-art anti-forgery features of the SAR passport.
With the on-going efforts of the SAR Government over the years, the total number of countries/territories having granted visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to SAR passport holders has increased from around 40 during the initial stage following the handover to 152 at present, they include countries/territories having close ties with Hong Kong on trade, business and tourism, such as Japan, Republic of Korea, Thailand and all European Union Member States, etc.
At present, there is no unified international standard on determining travel convenience enjoyed by holders of passports of individual countries/territories. Different organisations may compile passport rankings using different sets of criteria and hence the results may vary from one another. Whether to grant visa-free access is a matter under the scope of individual countries/territories' sovereignty. In the case of Hong Kong, we have all along adopted an open immigration policy. At present, nationals of about 170 foreign countries and territories may visit Hong Kong visa-free. In considering granting foreign nationals visa-free access, reciprocity is only one of the factors to be taken into account, other factors are to be contemplated, including immigration control and security concerns, bilateral economic, social and cultural ties, the circumstances of individual countries/territories, as well as the track records of their nationals visiting Hong Kong, etc., and a balance has to be struck against the ensuing benefits to Hong Kong as an international trade centre, tourist centre and financial centre. Our detailed reply to the question raised is as follows:
(1) From 2006 to 2015, 25 additional countries/territories have granted visa-free access to SAR passport holders and they are listed out at Annex 1.
(2) At present, a total of 152 countries/territories have granted visa-free access to SAR passport holders. According to the information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China (PRC), at present, 52 countries/territories have granted conditional visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to holders of PRC ordinary passports. Among them, due to various circumstances and factors, 17 countries/territories have yet to grant visa-free access to SAR passport holders and they are listed out at Annex 2.
(3) At present, among those countries/territories which have been granted visa-free access to Hong Kong, 37 of them have yet to grant visa-free access to SAR passport holders and they are listed out at Annex 3.
(4) The SAR Government will continue its efforts to lobby for visa-free access to more countries and territories for SAR passport holders, including those yet to grant reciprocal facilitation, and review from time to time our lobbying strategies in the light of the actual circumstances.