The exit-entry permit system allowing mainland China passport holders to journey to and from Macau and Hong Kong will go digital for all Chinese travellers starting on Monday. That is according to Xinhua, an official news agency, quoting a statement from the Ministry of Public Security.
The move comes in time for the traditionally busy holiday period of Golden Week in early October.
The main advantage of e-permits is likely to be quicker processing of travellers.
In June last year, Lao Ngai Leong – a Macau deputy to the National People’s Congress, and who is also a local customs post supervisor – estimated it would take a visitor only six to eight seconds to pass through an e-channel, but at least half an hour to go through a conventional immigration clearance channel.
The electronic pass is being introduced at national level after being piloted in Guangdong Province over the past few months.
The Macau Daily Times newspaper reported on August 7 this year that the number of e-permits in use to cross Macau’s borders had reached 200,000 in July, four times more than the 50,000 permits recorded in June. It added that 117 e-channels were now in use at the Gongbei border gate on Macau peninsula – the land crossing to and from Zhuhai in China’s Guangdong province.
Last year around 78 percent of Macau’s 29 million visitors entered the territory via Macau peninsula; either at the Gongbei border crossing; the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal; or the Inner Harbour according to Macau Government Tourist Office.
Public safety concerns might have spurred advancement of the e-permit system. During Chinese New Year in February 2013, scuffles broke out at the Gongbei crossing as a rush of travellers tried to return to the mainland in the early evening at the end of the holidays.
The new permit consists of a card embedded with an electronic integrated circuit chip that stores personal data and endorsement information, reported Xinhua. The electronic permit is said to have much stronger anti-counterfeiting features compared to the paper permits of the past.
The police department will also register fingerprint information when people first apply for the permit.
The period of validity for an adult permit will be extended to 10 years, while the validity period for juveniles under the age of 16 will remain five years, said Xinhua.
The e-permit scheme’s extension comes at a time when visa conditions for VIP gamblers appear to have been tightened.
In June, a spokesman for Macau’s immigration department said rules on transit visas – where travellers visit Macau supposedly en route to another destination – had been tightened. There was a suspicion among the authorities that transit permits were being used to bypass the normal visa application procedures to enter Macau, which restrict the number of times per year each mainlander can visit the city.
A number of investment analysts have suggested the transit visa method was commonly used by high rollers. At one stage last year agents at the crossing points were said to be touting transit visas – sometimes issued by developing countries – in exchange for cash, said several analysts.
Andy Wu Keng Kuong, president of the Macau Travel Industry Council, has counselled that the e-permit system will not necessarily mean extra mass market tourist traffic. He suggested long border waiting times were little disincentive for mass market tourists who in many cases travel on guided tours not via e-permits. Such permits are likely to be of most benefit to the increasing numbers of people that commute across the border to work or live, suggested Mr Wu.
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"If the [Macau casino] concessions are put up for bid, there will also be a lot of giant Chinese companies, some having nothing to do with gaming, which would like to take over these enormously successful casinos”
Professor emeritus at Whittier Law School in California, in the United States, and a visiting professor at University of Macau