As security tightens before the Olympic Games, travel agents in Hong Kong say Beijing has stopped issuing multi-entry visas to foreigners living in the city, inconveniencing business people who frequently travel to China. But Chinese authorities deny they have changed visa rules. Claudia Blume reports for VOA from Hong Kong.
For foreign passport holders living in Hong Kong, going to China for business and leisure is usually easy. Most businesspeople hold multi-entry visas valid for up to three years.
But travel agents in the city say that since last week, those who want to renew their multi-entry visas are out of luck. They say foreigners can only get single or double-entry visas, valid for no more than three months.
In addition to the ban on multiple-entry visas, travelers can no longer obtain short-stay visas at Hong Kong's border with neighboring Shenzhen.
Travel agents think the change is related to the Beijing Olympics, which will be held in August, as the visa ban is set to be lifted in mid-October, after the games.
But Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu says China has not stopped issuing multiple-entry visas.
Jiang says the visa policy is in accordance with China's laws and regulations. Furthermore, she says it was formulated in reference to international norms.
She offered no explanation for why the visas suddenly are not available in Hong Kong.
Foreigners in Hong Kong who frequently do business in China are worried about any change in visa regulations. Applying for a visa each time they cross the border is time-consuming and costly.
"People have serious commitments in China, they are anxious to do business in China," said Andrew Work, the executive director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. "They are interested to develop their business in China and they have business partners up there and people who would like to see them to do the deals, and they are just concerned that it will take them longer or be more complicated getting up to China."
Work thinks the ban on multiple-entry visas also will affect tourism, as many foreigners in Hong Kong frequently cross the border for sightseeing or shopping.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997, but maintains a separate legal and visa system.