Hong Kong passport holders used to get special perks in the U.S. Not anymore

July 15, 2020, 9:26 AM UTC

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday ended Hong Kong’s preferential status with the U.S. to punish China’s government for its actions in Hong Kong.

The move will scrap Hong Kong’s economic, trade, and diplomatic privileges with the U.S., including special treatment for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) passport holders compared to People’s Republic of China (PRC) passport holders.

According to the executive order on “Hong Kong normalization” that Trump signed on Tuesday, the U.S. will “eliminate the preference for Hong Kong passport holders as compared to PRC passport holders” within 15 days of the July 14 order.

Hong Kong SAR passport holders currently rank 19th on the 2020 Henley Passport Index, a global ranking of passports according to the number of places their holders can travel to without a prior visa. The PRC passport is ranked 70th.

Currently, Hong Kong SAR passport holders can travel to 170 regions visa-free or with a visa on arrival; PRC passport holders can travel to 74. Both require a prior visa to travel to the U.S., but there are some differences in U.S. visa regulations for the two passports.

For example, the validity period of the H-1B and H-4 visas for foreign workers and their immediate families is 60 months for SAR passport holders and 12 months for PRC passport holders, according to the State Department website.

PRC passport holders must pay a $422 fee to apply for an I-1 foreign media or journalist visa, and their visa is valid for three months; SAR passport holders don’t need to pay an application fee, and they receive a 60-month I-1 visa.

Similar differences in validity periods between SAR and PRC passports exist across diplomatic-affiliated, transit, cultural exchange program, religious, and other visas. In some cases, SAR passport holders are granted multiple-entry where PRC passport holders are granted single-entry for the same type of visa.

The U.S. has recognized Hong Kong’s special economic status since the territory was handed from Britain to China in 1997, according to terms laid out in the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act. The validity of the act was dependent on Hong Kong’s continued autonomy from mainland China as laid out in the “one country, two systems” principle that separates their legal, financial, and political infrastructure.

In May, hours before China approved a controversial national security law tailor-made for Hong Kong, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had determined that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China. Pompeo’s announcement paved the way for Tuesday’s executive order scrapping Hong Kong’s special status.

It’s not clear how the change might affect U.S. passport holders traveling to Hong Kong. Currently, Americans can travel visa-free to Hong Kong and stay for up to 90 days.

The “Hong Kong normalization” order also suspended the U.S.-Hong Kong extradition treaty and prisoner transfer agreement, called for steps to terminate the Fulbright exchange program for both mainland China and Hong Kong, and opened a path to refugee status in the U.S. for Hong Kong residents “based on humanitarian concerns.”