A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

The End of Preferential Treatment of Hong Kong

The Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization (Executive Order), signed by President Trump on 07/14/2020, strips away the preferential treatment that Hong Kong has enjoyed since the return of the British crown colony to China in 1997.  To the city of about 7.5 million people, the changes will be drastic. 

Under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, the United States has continued to treat the city differently from China, in areas of immigration, trade, taxation, technology and cultural changes, export control, etc.  For example, when adjudicating immigrant visa applications, Hong Kong is considered a separate state and has its own per-country quotas.  Trump's Executive Order has put all these to an end. 

Perhaps the real victims of the current political crossfires are the regular citizens of Hong Kong. People who were born in Hong Kong and those who hold Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports will be affected by the Executive Order.

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In the area of immigration, Hong Kong applicants will be treated as Chinese nationals and have to wait a lot longer for visa numbers. Currently, the waiting times for family immigration are similar for both places.  However, for employment-based applications, there are huge differences in waiting times.  For example, for applications requiring a graduate degree, visas are immediately available for Hong Kong applicants now.  For Chinese applicants, visas are available only for those who applied before November 15, 2008. 

For non-immigrant visas, Hong Kong people generally enjoy longer term visas. For instances, common work visas including H-1B and L-1A can be issued for up to a maximum of 60 months for Hong Kong applicants.  Chinese nationals are only granted maximums of  12 months and 24 months respectively for these two types of visas. 

Regarding the B-1/B-2 visitor visas, both Hong Kong and Chinese applicants are both granted a maximum of 10 year visas.  However, under the Executive Order, Hong Kong applicants will have to register their visas in the Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS) like the Chinese applicants. 

These changes are only the tip of an iceberg.  The Executive Order will bring about many more changes to Hong Kong people in the months to come.  Not everything in the Executive Order is negative.  Trump has requested to reallocate the annual admission quotas for refugees specifically for residents of Hong Kong based on "humanitarian concerns," in anticipation of an influx of asylum seekers from the island city.  

What can Hong Kong applicants do now? Trump gave his deputies 15 days to start taking actions to implement this Executive Order.  The resulting regulatory process will likely take months to complete.  Hence, the existing system will remain the same for the near future.  Given the long history of U.S.-Hong Kong relationship, it will take some time to untangle all the current regulations and practices.  Furthermore, it is unlikely that the new rules will be applied retroactively.  Hence, as far as immigration is concerned, it is wise for Hong Kong applicants to submit their applications as soon as possible before any new rules take effect. 


Anonymous said...

Hong Kong being considered a separate state and having its own per-country quotas is due to the Immigration Act of 1990, not the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992. So it is really affected by this executive order?

Paul Szeto said...

Dear Anonymous - The Immigration Act of 1990 treated Hong Kong as a separate state when Hong Kong was still a British colony. It is the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 that sealed the US commitment to continue treating Hong Kong separately and differently AFTER the revert of Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997.