China has simplified the visa policy for foreigners applying to enter the Chinese mainland via Hong Kong who have received China-produced COVID-19 vaccines, which experts said shows the authorities' confidence in the efficacy and safety of the vaccines and will facilitate personnel exchanges.
The Office of the Commissioner of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region issued a notice on Friday to exempt foreign visa applicants who have accepted Chinese vaccines from providing health certification. Chinese experts said it can be a trial project for China to explore vaccine visas and hopefully can be expanded to other places.
In view of resuming people-to-people exchanges between China and other countries in an orderly manner, starting from March 15, the office will provide facilitation for visa applicants who have been inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines produced in China and obtained vaccination certificates, read a statement the office released on its website on Friday.
The facilitation is aimed at exploring a more flexible and efficient immigration policy during the pandemic, including the policy of entering the Chinese mainland after landing in Hong Kong from abroad, Li Xiaobin, a Hong Kong studies expert at Nankai University in Tianjin, told the Global Times on Saturday.
"Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland have different anti-epidemic measures. In the current context of increasing people-to-people exchanges, the more flexible visa measures will make the mobility of personnel in Hong Kong smoother," Li said.
According to the new policy, foreign nationals and their family members visiting the Chinese mainland to resume work and production need only to provide the documents required before the COVID-19 pandemic when applying for a visa.
The scope of applicants eligible for applying for a visa out of emergency humanitarian needs will also be expanded; holders of valid Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) business travel cards will also have easier process to apply for a visa, according to the office's notice.
The facilitation applies only to applicants who have been inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines produced in China, either having received two doses of Chinese-made vaccines with the stipulated gap in between, or having received a single-dose Chinese-made vaccine at least 14 days prior to the application, and obtained the vaccination certificate, the office noted.
Proof of a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test result and the Health and Travel Record Declaration Form for Visa Application are no longer required, according to the notice.
Li pointed out that the facilitation has set out specific restrictions on personnel and conditions of use.
"Such careful consideration and precise deployment will facilitate the flexible use and promotion of this model to more places in China in the future," he added.
Other applicants still have to follow the procedure stated previously, which required all applicants to provide COVID-19 negative certificates tested within 72 hours along with a health and travel declaration and an invitation.
Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccines expert, told the Global Times on Saturday that the facilitation has exempted these applicants from a certificate to prove that they have not been affected with COVID-19.
But detailed policies are still needed to regulate the quarantine measures on international arrivals before and after they enter China, Tao noted.
China has nodded to the establishment of an international vaccination mutual recognition platform. Some experts said that Hong Kong and Macao regions are proper places for China to conduct the trial program of the platform and then gradually promote the model to foreign areas.