Hong Kong has decided to withdraw the visa-free facility for Indians, reported PTI. From January onward, Indian travellers will need to complete a pre-arrival registration process before they can enter the city. “The pre-arrival registration for Indian nationals will be implemented on January 23, 2017. The online service for it is now opened,” said the Hong Kong immigration department, adding that registration is not required in case of direct transit by air and if the traveller is not leaving the airport transit area.

The pre-arrival registration is valid for six months during which the applicant can visit Hong Kong any number of times, reported Hindustan Times. The only Indians exempted from pre-arrival registration are those with diplomatic passports or a Hong Kong Travel Pass, and those who have successfully enrolled for the e-Channel service. Before this, Indians could visit the special administrative region of China for up to 14 days with just a valid passport.

There is speculation that the decision was taken as the number of Indian asylum seekers was on the rise, according to PTI. However, Indian officials believe that Hong Kong is using the asylum seekers as a pretext to deny visa-free entry to Indians. There are also concerns that the move has been triggered by China.

Among the current backlog of 10,335 refugee applications in the city, 80% are from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia, Hong Kong’s Immigration Department Assistant Director Ma Chi-ming told the South China Morning Post. He added that it is a pilot project and will be reviewed once it is launched. “We picked India as a testing point as it was one of the major source countries.”

The new rules will affect hundreds of thousands of Indians who visit the former British colony every year for both tourism and trade. According to Hindustan Times, as many as 561,625 Indian tourists visited Hong Kong in 2015.