China has stopped issuing multiple-entry visas until after the Olympic Games, travel agents said Monday, raising concerns among firms with business interests on the mainland.
"At the beginning of last week, we were no longer able to get any multiple entry visas for anyone," Daryl Bending, from Concorde Travel in Hong Kong, told AFP.
"The main reason is to do with the Olympics, and we expect that after the Olympics things will return to normality," he said.
Sunrise International Travel Company, also based in Hong Kong, said on its website that it would be unable to get hold of multi-entry visas -- that are valid for between six months and three years -- until October.
The ban applies to both tourist and business visas, two further Hong Kong-based agents told AFP.
A travel agent with a tour company in Singapore said the move took effect March 27 and China would not be issuing multi-entry visas until further notice.
Single-entry and double-entry visas, valid for up to three months, are still available, the agents said.
Bending said some of his customers had already cancelled planned trips to China when they were faced with the restrictions.
No one was available for comment from the Chinese foreign ministry in Hong Kong or in Beijing, despite repeated attempts. A Hong Kong government spokesman did not immediately comment.
Andrew Work, executive director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce here, said the ban would cause problems for foreigners living and working in Hong Kong who have business on the mainland.
"Some people who are going back and forth into the mainland two or three times a week will now have greatly reduced access," Work told AFP.
"If they are not able to monitor a major shipment, it will become a more serious issue for them -- you are going to be on a bit of a wing and a prayer."
Work said he knew of one organiser of a trade mission to the mainland that had expressed frustration at the new rules.
Deborah Biber, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce here, said the move was "inconvenient", but did not think it would cause serious damage to firms.
One of the Hong Kong travel agents, who did not want to be named, told AFP that visitors looking to enter mainland China also had to wait longer for their visa to come through, a change that had come into effect last week.
"Before, you could put in your application early in the morning and it would be back by 1:30 pm, now you have to wait until the end of the day," the agent said.
Short-stop visas that were available for some nationalities, including Australians, at the border with the southern Chinese manufacturing hub of Guangdong province, had also been stopped, Bending added.
The border city of Shenzhen is a popular day trip destination for Hong Kong residents looking for shopping bargains.
Hong Kong has maintained its separate legal and visa systems since it was returned to China by colonial power Britain in 1997. (AFP)
China bans multi-entry visas until after Games