China tightens curbs on overseas travel as part of Covid battle

China tightens curbs on overseas travel as part of Covid battle

Travellers walk at a terminal hall of the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on March 23, 2022. (Reuters photo)
Travellers walk at a terminal hall of the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on March 23, 2022. (Reuters photo)

HONG KONG: China has said it will impose tight restrictions on "non-essential" overseas travel for its citizens to help contain the worst coronavirus outbreak the country has seen in the past two years.

The immigration authorities said the curbs were designed to stop infections crossing the border and would include a more rigorous approval process for passports and other travel documents and a crackdown on illegal border crossings.

A meeting of the National Immigration Administration on Tuesday heard that China's Covid-19 situation is at a "significant and urgent point" and that the city of Beijing is the "most important of the important".

A statement on the agency's website said the meeting had been called to relay the decisions taken at a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee chaired by President Xi Jinping last Thursday, where the leadership doubled down on China's zero-Covid policy saying it "will stand the test of time".

Chinese health authorities have repeatedly pointed at the overseas origins of outbreaks in the country, in some cases blaming letters and packages from abroad - a theory that has prompted widespread scepticism internationally.

China's immigration authorities have already restricted approvals of travel documents for its citizens since the beginning of the pandemic, and Chinese citizens have complained of being unable to renew passports.

In the first half of 2021, China only issued 335,000 passports, mainly for studying abroad, business trips and employment, 2% of the total for the same period in 2019, the NIA said last year.

A Guangzhou resident surnamed Xu said he tried to renew his passport in 2020 to see his son who is studying in the United States, but was turned down. He was told if he was not studying abroad, had business or had an invitation letter, he should not travel abroad.

"I cannot understand this, even if it's for outbreak prevention," he said.

He is not counting on his son coming home for the summer this year, due to strict restrictions.

Despite the restrictions, demand to travel continues. On popular forum Xiaohongshu, users listed creative ways to get a passport, including travelling abroad for a Chartered Financial Analyst test or hiring agents to vouch for job or school offers.

One post said that it was going to be the "new normal" to find it hard to get a passport, adding: "The more materials you can prepare, the earlier you can get it, the better. It's only going to get stricter from here."

In March, the Ministry of Public Security said there would be stricter rules on approving entry-exit permits and a crackdown on illegal activities.

While the capital resorts to drastic measures to try and stop infections in the city at an early stage, its financial heart Shanghai has been in lockdown for more than a month. At least 15 Chinese provinces have also recorded local infections in recent days.

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