A view of Sanya Bay in Hainan province. (Photo: VCG)
Visa-free access to the tropical island province of Hainan will likely become easier and available to more people for longer periods due to proposed changes in existing policy, the Ministry of Public Security's State Immigration Administration said on Wednesday.
Foreign visitors from 59 countries will no longer have to book their trips in advance through travel agencies, and will instead be able to apply for visa-free entry on their own or through organizations that invite them to Hainan, according to draft changes to the policy released by the administration.
Visit purposes eligible for visa-free entry will be extended from travel to include business and trade, family visits, medical treatment, exhibitions and sports competitions.
Jia Tongbin, the administration's deputy director in charge of foreign visitors, said at a news conference in Beijing that visa-free stays longer than 30 days will eventually be permitted in order to meet Hainan's needs for foreign expertise and to boost the local tourism sector. The list of countries whose citizens are eligible for visa-free entry will be adjusted in a timely manner, Jia added.
The draft changes are in addition to Hainan's existing visa-free entry policy, which took effect on May 1, 2018. That policy opened the province's doors to tourists from 59 countries for stays of up to 30 days, on condition that they register with travel agencies.
"As the construction of the Hainan Free Trade Zone and free trade port are accelerating and Hainan is becoming more internationalized, there will be an increasing number of international tourists, entrepreneurs and scholars coming to Hainan for travel and investment in the future," Jia said, adding that Hainan received 447,000 foreign visitors from the 59 countries from May 1, 2018, to June 30 this year, an increase of 18.8 percent compared to the year-earlier period.
Qu Yunhai, deputy director of the administration, said the policy changes will support development of the Hainan Free Trade Zone by providing greater convenience for people in high-tech, tourism and services sectors.
Three pilot policies will be launched in August to make driving in Hainan more convenient for foreign visitors.
The first will enable visitors staying for short periods to apply for temporary driving permits without having to undergo health checks.
The second will extend the validity period of temporary driving permits for foreigners from three months to a maximum of one year. And they will not have to reapply for permits if they leave the island during that period.
The third will make applying for driving permits easier by setting up service centers at ports, airports and other ports of entry along with offering online services to ease the application process.
As part of its efforts to comprehensively deepen reform and opening-up, China rolled out a plan in October for building the island province into a pilot free trade zone, giving it more autonomy to speed up the fostering of an international and convenient environment for business, tourism, finance and other industries.
Jia said the ministry and the immigration administration are helping Hainan build and improve a mechanism to attract more international talent and entrepreneurs. Senior technical experts, urgently needed specialists and members of technological innovation groups will be able to apply for visas at ports of entry and then acquire residence permits lasting five years.
Foreign students who have obtained master's degrees or above from a Chinese higher education institution will be able to apply for two-year residence permits for the purpose of entrepreneurial activities.
Meanwhile, foreign investors with stable investments in innovative enterprises in Hainan and good tax records for three consecutive years will be able to apply for permanent residence.
"These new policies are very valuable, innovative and specific. They are also easy to implement, which indicates that Hainan's doors have been further opened," said Xie Xiangxiang, an associate professor of tourism at Hainan University.
"Policies to attract more talent are worthy of praise. International talent flows are becoming more free, market-oriented and flexible. These policies will play an active role in the construction of the Hainan Free Trade Zone, which urgently needs talent," Xie added.