Applications will open next month for an expanded entry scheme to a restricted historic town located along the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, with 1,000 spots available under the new daily quota from January.
Police also announced the launch of an online one-stop platform on Friday, which visitors can use to apply for permits to enter closed areas that included the Sha Tau Kok border town, as well as activities such as outdoor photoshoots.
“Starting from December 1, all Hong Kong residents, visitors to Hong Kong and licensed travel agencies can apply for group and individual travel restricted area permits for the whole of January through the online application platform,” acting chief inspector Cheung Ka-man of the force’s operations wing told a press briefing.
Up to 700 people on group tours would be allowed to visit Sha Tau Kok under January’s new daily quota, while another 300 spots would be open to individual visitors, she added.
The permits will allow travellers to remain in the border town from 7am to 9pm. Access to Chung Ying Street, which lies on the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, will remain restricted.
The expanded scheme marks the second stage in a government effort to open up Hong Kong’s northernmost town and will also allow for daily visits, a change from the quota of 500 people per day on weekends and public holidays under the first phase.
As one of the last remaining settlements in the Frontier Closed Area, a regulated zone first established in 1951 to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the border, access to Sha Tau Kok was previously subject to restrictions for non-residents.
City authorities granted tour agencies limited access to Sha Tau Kok as part of a pilot scheme in June last year to promote eco-tourism. Before the initiative’s launch, residents required a special permit to visit the border town.
Under the scheme’s first phase, access to the frontier town was only granted to visitors travelling as part of the tour groups.
Official figures show police issued about 17,000 visitors permits between June and December 2022, and another 19,000 from January to October this year.
Authorities in Shenzhen and Hong Kong also share jurisdiction over the town’s Chung Ying Street. Local residents can run shops on either side of the border and cross over at any time.
Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung in September announced the second phase of the visitors scheme, setting a launch time for early next year.
“Sha Tau Kok is a place of exceptional significance,” he said. “In addition to being the epitome of Hong Kong’s modern history, it also symbolises the opportunities for the future integrated development of Hong Kong and the mainland.”
Last month, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu devoted part of his policy address to proposals promoting cultural and eco‑tourism in Sha Tau Kok, saying he planned to talk to Shenzhen authorities about whether they could facilitate access.
Police on Friday said groups could also apply for permits using the one-stop platform, in line with Lee’s pledge to fully digitise licence applications and approval services by mid-2024.
Chief Inspector Chung Kit-ying of the force’s digital services division said the platform would introduce more services next year, including record checks for sexual convictions and issuing certificates of no criminal conviction.
“The platform supports multiple registration and login methods, including email, local mobile phone numbers, iAM Smart and iAM Smart+ apps,” she said, referring to government smartphone applications offering personalised digital services.
Creating an account with the travel scheme’s platform would ensure users avoided re-entering the same data for multiple forms and applications, as well as allowing them to check on the progress of their requests, Chung added.
The chief inspector said she expected the service would help cut the application approval time from the current four to seven working days to between two and three.
Users could also contact the force’s 24-hour hotline for the platform at 8226 1886 for any help with registration, logging in and filling out forms, she said.