HK loses visa waiver benefit

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Posted on Jul 30 2020

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File photo shows an HK Express jet as it departs the Kansai International Airport for Hong Kong. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Hong Kong nationals used to be able to come to the CNMI using just their passports and without first securing a U.S visa. That is no longer the case after the United States removed the territory from the Visa Waiver Program.

Hong Kong has lost the preferential treatment the United States provides it, following President Donald J. Trump’s signing of an executive order on Hong Kong Normalization last July 15, soon after the People’s Republic of China announced its intention to impose a new national security law in the region that was being touted as a means to clamp down on dissent in the territory, but critics describe as China’s attempt to bring the territory under its control.

How this new change will impact Hong Kong visitors to the CNMI remains to be seen. Based on the arrival numbers the Marianas Visitors Authority reported in March this year, a total of 295 visitors from Hong Kong have come to the CNMI so far this fiscal year (covering the period from October 2019 to March 2020). In fiscal year 2019, a total of 2,824 Hong Kong nationals came to the CNMI. Also, budget airline HK Express used to fly to the CNMI. It suspended flights to the CNMI last Feb. 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new Trump executive order, Hong Kong would be removed from the Guam and CNMI Visa Waiver Program, where visitors from eligible countries may be boarded without a visa and can have an extended authorized period of stay for up to 45 days, for business, pleasure, or transit, in the two U.S. territories.

“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China, no special privileges, no special economic treatment, and no export of sensitive technologies,” the President said. “In addition to that, as you know, we’re placing massive tariffs and have placed very large tariffs on China. First time that’s ever happened to China.”

Previously, travelers with a connection to Hong Kong were eligible to participate in the waiver program, provided the required documentation is met, i.e., having a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport, or a British National (Overseas) passport, with a Hong Kong identification card.

Last May 27, State Secretary Mike Pompeo announced that China had fundamentally undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy, and reported to the U.S. Congress that the region no longer warrants its treatment as separate from China under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.

On May 29, Trump directed the heads of executive departments and agencies to begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions under U.S. law that give Hong Kong a different treatment compared to China.

Section 1 of the new executive order states that it shall be the policy of the United States to suspend or eliminate different and preferential treatment for Hong Kong to the extent permitted by law and in the national security, foreign policy, and economic interest of the United States.

The executive order is set to amend the regulation at 8 CFR 212.4(i) to eliminate the preference for Hong Kong passport holders as compared to PRC passport holders. In comparison with China, Hong Kong passport holders enjoy maximum visa validity periods, as well as encounter less backlogs, primarily due to China being densely-populated with a high U.S. immigration rate.

As regulations are amended, it is expected that Hong Kong will also be removed from its participation in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (or the green card lottery) where the U.S., in an effort to diversify its population, makes available 55,000 immigrant visas yearly, from countries with low number of immigrants.

Aside from the executive order, Trump also signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, to hold China “accountable for its oppressive actions against the people of Hong Kong.”

“The Hong Kong Autonomy Act…gives my administration powerful new tools to hold responsible, the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom,” the President added.

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com

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