THE REAL FACES OF CHINA + HONG KONG
Flood of complaints over mainland visa restrictionsLiz Heron and Zoe MakApr 19, 2008 - SCMP - page 2The American Chamber of Commerce has sent a dossier of complaints from businesspeople to the central government over the imposition, without notice, of new conditions for obtaining mainland visas.The chamber received nearly 30 letters of complaint within 24 hours of launching a survey of its 1,600 members on Wednesday, and last night sent bundles of responses to the Commissioner's Office of the Foreign Ministry and the Hong Kong government. It plans to send further bundles over coming days.A similar survey is being conducted by the British Chamber of Commerce.AmCham president Richard Vuylsteke said the response was exceptionally rapid and strong and the main concerns were the suspension of multiple-entry visas, new requirements to provide a return travel ticket and hotel voucher before applying for a visa, and higher visa charges."It is incumbent on us as a chamber to provide this information as soon as possible so that they can see what impact this is having on business and Hong Kong's image as a great place to do business," he said."What everybody wants is to go back to what we had. But if there has to be a fallback position, that would be to carve out different categories of people who need fast-track access."The move comes after the European Chamber of Commerce wrote to the commissioner's office on Monday calling for high-level talks about the withdrawal of both multiple-entry visas and the issuance of short-stay visas at the Shenzhen border over recent weeks.The Commissioner's Office has said in a statement that multiple-entry visas could still be issued.Travel agents say requirements for travellers to obtain a return ticket and hotel voucher before applying for a visa, a new two-day visa for Shenzhen with a 30-day validity period, and a new rule that nationals of 33 countries can apply for mainland visas only from their home countries - and not from Hong Kong - came into force on Tuesday.The Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents wrote to its members yesterday with details of the 33 affected countries. The letter said the new requirements for a business visa included "an original copy of an invitation letter".Daryl Bending, senior travel consultant with Concorde Travel, said the return ticket and hotel voucher were not required for the two-day visa but would be needed for single-entry and double-entry mainland visas used for visits to Shenzhen.Similar requirements were imposed without notice on people applying for mainland business visas at Chinese consulates across Australia on Wednesday, according to News Limited website. Businesspeople needed to obtain a letter from an approved central government department confirming their dealings on the mainland were bona fide, it said.Gavin McDougall, a spokesman for the Australian consulate, said: "We are not aware that that is a requirement affecting Australian businesses in Hong Kong. Our embassy in Beijing is making further inquiries."
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