Work visas for foreign journalists in Hong Kong will come under greater scrutiny by a new national security unit.
It comes after the Hong Kong Immigration Department formed a national security unit at the end of June to handle sensitive visa applications, such as those from foreign media and Taiwanese organisations, local media reported.
The new division is led by a chief immigration officer in the quality migrants and mainland residents section, The Standard reported yesterday.
The local media outlet added that there is no information about this chief immigration officer on the department’s organisational chart and its office is not on the same floor as the quality migrants and mainland residents’ section, which is on the sixth floor of Immigration Tower in Wan Chai.
The report said the immigration department had never publicised such a unit in the past and blamed the unit for delays in visa renewals of several foreign media organisations, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The article said there were technical reasons behind the delays.
For example, if an editor does not mention that reporting is part of the job duties in the first visa application, his visa renewal can be delayed or rejected if the editor is found to be reporting on a protest.
The department will also look at mandatory provident fund contribution payroll records to determine whether a journalist is a long-term worker in Hong Kong.
The news comes amid worsening ties between China and the United States, with Washington designating nine Chinese state-run media organisations, including Xinhua News Agency, China Central Television and People’s Daily, as foreign missions and imposed staff visa quotas.
In retaliation, Beijing expelled US reporters and withdrew the press credentials of American journalists at three US newspapers – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) in Hong Kong has issued a statement opposing the use of journalists’ visas as a weapon in international disputes.
REFRAIN FROM RETALIATION
The FCC calls on the Trump administration to lift its restrictions on Chinese media working in the US, and on Hong Kong and China’s governments to refrain from retribution in targeting US media and journalists working in Hong Kong.
THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS’ CLUB IN HONG KONG, in a statement on Aug 6.
“The FCC calls on the Trump administration to lift its restrictions on Chinese media working in the US, and on Hong Kong and China’s governments to refrain from retribution in targeting US media and journalists working in Hong Kong,” the Aug 6 statement said.
The club said the Hong Kong government’s delay in issuing new or renewed visas to foreign journalists is “highly unusual” as the city has “historically robust press protections”.
It urged the Hong Kong government to clarify the impact of the new national security law on journalists working in the city, and has also asked the government to guarantee, among other things, “that journalists will be free to continue their work without intimidation or obstruction”.