When the government announced that some non-residents would be able to apply for exemptions from the months-long ban on foreign nationals entering the SAR starting from December 1, many people saw it as a positive sign of stepping in some kind of opening by local authorities towards allowing more people to enter the walled city.
Even with many caveats, the policy only allows entry to foreigners who have remained in mainland China for 14 days to apply, and applications can be made by the spouses or off-springs of a Macau resident, those who have been admitted to local higher education institutions, those visiting Macau for important commercial, academic or other professional activities, or those who have obtained an official permit to work in Macao as a non-resident worker.
Especially as a way to help local residents with non-resident relatives to reunite, it seemed to be finally a human opening that could allow families to reunite after months of separation since a ban on the entry of foreigners was imposed in March.
However, health authorities have already stated that out of 84 applications submitted for entry exemptions, involving 102 people, only six have been approved.
From talks with people that have gone through the process, the amount of paperwork required is quite daunting, with no clear indications of success.
The fact that at the moment the Chinese government is only providing entry visas into the country for a very limited number of people, also effectively blocks the mainland as a possible stop before being allowed entry into Macau.
This brings us to another uncomfortable topic that has arisen from this whole mess: the fact that full-fledged Macau permanent residents, born and raised in this city, are still barred from entering the mainland.
What effectively allows Macau residents to enter the People’s Republic of China is their Home Return Permit, which, in turn, can only be obtained by Chinese nationality, which bars a considerable number of residents from entering the mainland and effectively turns full-fledged Macau residents into “second-class citizens”.
The reasons why so many residents do not hold Chinese nationality are many and varied and relate to the specific historic and social characteristics of Macau.
Considering that at the moment a foreign national living in Beijing can move around the mainland, what sense does it make that a Macau resident, even without Chinese nationality and who has remained in a city with no cases for more than 157 consecutive days to even cross the border to Zhuhai?
No matter how many negative nucleic acid tests were conducted or quarantines completed, the barrier remains high and strong for such residents, who prior to the pandemic had no issues crossing to the mainland.
Article 25 of the Basic Law states that Macau residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of their nationality, descent, sex, race, language, religion, political persuasion or ideological belief, educational level, economic status or social conditions.
However, it was never clear that some residents are more equal than others. In a time where solidarity and empathy should be shown to all people who have endured this difficult year in Macau, dividing residents into unnecessary categories is a stain on what is so far almost impeccable pandemic prevention work by authorities.
Chinese authorities have every right to decide who can enter their respective jurisdiction, but Macau authorities should do better work in fighting for the rights of its residents to be respected.