Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on April 24, 2008
The furor surrounding the Olympic torch relay is causing nightmares for Carrefour and other French businesses in China. The impact is now extending to the hub for foreign business in China, Hong Kong. The city’s American Chamber of Commerce is becoming uncharacteristically blunt in its criticism of new restrictions on visas for business people going into the PRC from the former British colony.
AmCham last week emailed members asking for their input on rumors that the Chinese government had suddenly clamped down on visas in the run up to the Olympics. According to the email from AmCham president Richard Vuylsteke, people with multiple-entry visa that are about to expire can only get single-entry visas from now until sometime after the Olympics.
For people like me, that’s no big deal. Journalists typically only get single-entry visas, valid for only a few days, and aren’t eligible for anything else. (I literally have a letter J in my passport branding me as a journo, lest someone at the foreign ministry think it’s kosher to give me something that lets me stay one minute too long.) But business people who use Hong Kong as a base to travel back and forth frequently to cities across the border depend on having six-month multiple-entry visas that allow them to come and go as they please. This new requirement – plus some others that require applicants to show airplane tickets and hotel reservations - creates a lot of hassles.
AmCham is now going public with its concerns. Here’s what the organization has on its website: “In response to complaints of numerous individual members that began early last week, AmCham polled them for case studies of business people having problems getting China visas, in an effort to provide the Chinese government with specific evidence that business people in Hong Kong are facing major disruptions to their cross-border operations, and substantially increased costs of doing business, due to unannounced changes to China’s visa policy, as applied in Hong Kong. The results of the AmCham poll have been sent to the China Foreign Ministry Office in Hong Kong, in an appeal to Commissioner Lu Xinhua for clarification of exactly what is changed in the new visa policy, the bases for making the changes, who will be affected and for how long.”
Maybe this will be another one of those instances in which an overzealous part of the Chinese bureaucracy puts into place a policy that turns out to raise hackles from foreign business – and then another part of the Chinese bureaucracy intervenes to fix the problem. But with Beijing extra-sensitive these days because of the crackdown in Tibet and the controversy surrounding the Olympics, it might be a while before any officials come to the rescue.