SHENZHEN — With her multi-entry tourist permit, Shenzhen resident Ms Wu crosses the checkpoint every day to drop off and pick up her child who attends school in Hong Kong.
However, due to a new policy effective immediately, she will have to consider applying for a family visit permit instead of simply renewing her current one.
The Ministry of Public Security announced on April 13 that it will stop issuing unlimited multiple-entry tourist passes to Shenzhen residents and instead issue new once-a-week entry permits starting on April 13.
Holders of the new visa may travel to Hong Kong once a week, with a maximum stay of seven days each time, said Shenzhen police. The multi-entry passes already issued will be valid until expiration.
The local police said in an official statement that increasing numbers of tourists have put pressure on the entry and exit points, exceeding the Asian financial hub’s capacity. As a result, the central government decided to “optimize and adjust travel policies for Shenzhen residents.”
The unlimited multi-entry passes were introduced on a pilot basis in April 2009 at the request of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government.
According to Hong Kong media reports, more than 800,000 Shenzhen residents applied for the travel permit in the following year and made more than 6 million trips between the two metropolises. Shenzhen has a total population of 3.1 million.
The previous policy helped promote economic development and job growth in Hong Kong as well as communication between the two cities, according to the statement.
Ms Wu said she worries that without the unlimited multi-entry pass, she might run into trouble if something unexpected happens to her child in Hong Kong.
“Fortunately, I can apply for a family visit permit instead,” she said. “Actually, many mothers of cross-border children already have it.”
According to official data, there are at least 16,000 “cross-border kids” with Hong Kong IDs living in Shenzhen with their parents.
Ms Wang welcomes the change.
“With fewer traders queuing at the port, our clearance will be easier and faster,” said Wang, who holds a family visit pass and sends her five-year-old daughter to school in Hong Kong.
Other Shenzhen tourists believe that the new policy will have a limited impact on their lives. Many applied for the multiple-entry visa because it is convenient and cheap, and not because they need to visit Hong Kong that frequently.
“I go to Hong Kong quite often because I have plenty of time and some of my relatives live there. I think once a week is enough for me,” said Ms Huang, a retired teacher living in Shenzhen’s port district of Yantian.
Ms Yuan, a 32-year-old banker, goes to Hong Kong every month. “I usually just do some shopping and meet friends there. Normally people won’t travel to Hong Kong every day and you can always apply for a business permit if you have a serious reason.”
“I believe the new policy is targeted at the parallel traders, and I think it’s reasonable,” she added, referring to those who pay short visits to Hong Kong to snap up consumer goods such as smart phones and baby formula. They often work for shadowy networks and organize the resale of goods in the mainland market.
“The group is really annoying sometimes, creating long queues at ports, shops and restaurants, and buying goods voraciously,” said Yuan.
Parallel trading has had negative impacts on both sides, and some Hong Kong activists have harassed normal travelers while protesting the practice.
However, official statistics show that parallel traders come from both sides of the border. Hong Kong Customs revealed earlier this year that 4,325 suspects were arrested between September 2012 and February 2013, 231 of whom were from the mainland and 4,090 were Hong Kong residents.
Shenzhen and Hong Kong have long teamed up to crack down on parallel trading. As of the end of January, the Hong Kong government had put 13,300 suspicious traders on a monitoring list and turned down 27,100 entry applications. Shenzhen has conducted strict screenings of travelers who make one-day visits with multi-entry permits.
Hong Kong and Shenzhen police launched more than 160 joint anti-smuggling operations by the end of 2014.
A Hong Kong businessman at Shenzhen’s Futian Port said he hopes the adjustment is effective.
“Travelers from the mainland are welcome by most Hong Kong people, and vice versa. Only a tiny group of people is unhappy,” he said, only giving his surname as Wong.
“The government needs to achieve a balance between maintaining the normal rhythm of life in Hong Kong and encouraging Shenzhen visitors,” he said. “I think more work needs to be done.”
The spokesperson of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council said on April 13 that the central government will continue to support the Hong Kong SAR government in developing tourism and strongly opposes the behavior of a very small number of Hong Kong people, which has harmed sentiments between residents from both sides.
The central government encourages more close contact between Hong Kong and the mainland, said the spokesperson.