Immigration Department Review 2012 (with photo)

8 February 2013

Following is a summary of the Immigration Department's major activities delivered by the Director of Immigration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki, at the department's year-end review for 2012 today (February 8):

Traffic at control points

The Control Branch experienced another busy year of passenger traffic in 2012. Some 267 million passengers passed through our control points, representing an increase of 5.7 per cent as compared with 2011. The total number of visitor arrivals reached 48.62 million, representing a 15.9 per cent increase as compared with 2011, of which 11.56 million passengers travelled through the Airport Control Point, while 32.36 million passengers and 4.69 million passengers passed through land boundary control points and sea control points respectively.

With the further development of economic and social connections between the Mainland and Hong Kong, passenger traffic at the control points, particularly Mainland visitors, has kept on increasing over the years. In 2012, the total number of Mainland visitor arrivals reached 34.7 million with a daily average of 94 700, which was 24 per cent higher than the figure in 2011.

Diversion of traffic at boundary control points

Shenzhen Bay Control Point is the first boundary control point providing co-location of boundary crossing facilities for both passenger and vehicular traffic between the Mainland and Hong Kong. In 2012, 28.33 million passengers and 3.62 million vehicles travelled through Shenzhen Bay, representing increases of 12.7 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively when compared with 2011. Peak daily traffic of 113 088 passengers was recorded on December 22, 2012.

Passenger traffic at the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line control point has grown steadily since its commissioning. In 2012, more than 41.37 million passengers travelled through the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, representing an increase of 21.1 per cent when compared with 2011. The highest daily traffic of 162 857 passengers was recorded on December 15, 2012.

In 2012, the Shenzhen Bay and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line control points shared 14 per cent and 20.4 per cent of the overall land boundary passenger traffic respectively. Shenzhen Bay took up 23.3 per cent of the overall vehicular traffic. The two control points helped alleviate the pressure on other boundary control points like Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau, and simultaneously improved our service standard.

Facilitation of people movement

Extension of e-Channel service for visitors

The number of visitors coming to Hong Kong has been on the rise in recent years. In order to further enhance the Department's handling capacity, as well as its efficiency, the e-Channel service has been further extended to accommodate more visitors. Starting from December 2011, an eligible Mainland visitor may enrol to use the e-Channel service at designated control points if he/she (i) is aged 18 or above; (ii) is holds a valid Exit-Entry Permit (EEP) with one-year multiple exit endorsement for purposes including visiting relatives (Tanqin), individual visits (Geren Luyou) or business visits (Shangwu); (iii) has visited Hong Kong three times or more within the 12 months immediately preceding the date of enrolment; and (iv) has no adverse record in Hong Kong.

With effect from January 3, 2012, successfully enrolled Mainland and other frequent visitors and Macau permanent residents may use e-Channel for immigration clearance at the Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line control points. The service was extended to the Shenzhen Bay, China Ferry Terminal, Macau Ferry Terminal and Airport control points by stages in the first quarter of 2012. As at the end of 2012, around 386 000 Mainland residents had successfully enrolled for the service. The Department also plans to open up the e-Channel service to eligible electronic EEP holders on the introduction of electronic EEP by the Mainland authorities.

In addition, the enrolment criteria for frequent foreign visitors using the e-Channel service was extended as from April 30, 2012, (i) to visitors holding a valid travel document who do not require an entry visa/permit for entering Hong Kong; (ii) have made visits to Hong Kong by air via the Hong Kong International Airport not less than three times within the 12 months immediately before enrolment; (iii) and have no adverse record in Hong Kong. As at December 2012, around 109 000 foreign frequent visitors had successfully enrolled for such service.

As at the end of 2012, a total of 68 e-Channels were installed for visitors.

Assistance for cross-boundary students (CBS)

With reference to figures from the Education Bureau, the number of CBS has reached around 17 000 in the 2012-13 school year. Designated counters have been reserved during peak hours to expedite the clearance of CBS. Six designated e-Channels for CBS have also been put into operation at Lo Wu Control Point.

To further assist CBS to travel between the Mainland and Hong Kong, the Government has approved special quotas for coach operators to run cross-boundary coaches for students using the Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Kok and Shenzhen Bay control points. The on-board clearance service has also been extended further from Man Kam To and Sha Tau Kok to Lok Ma Chau to provide more CBS with speedy and safe clearance. In addition, the implementation of a new simplified clearance procedure making use of information technology has further enhanced the overall clearance speed for enrolled CBS travelling through the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line and Shenzhen Bay, and those using the on-board clearance service in others control points in the 2012-13 school year.

Admission of talented people and investors

Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP)

The ASMTP has attracted a wide variety of qualified talents and professionals from the Mainland to come to work in Hong Kong since its implementation on July 15, 2003. Up to the end of 2012, a total of 67 523 entry applications for employment had been received. The main sectors of employment were academic research and education, arts and culture, and commerce and trade. In 2012, 8 105 applications were approved, representing a slight increase of 0.2 per cent when compared with 8 088 applications in 2011.

Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS)

Under the QMAS launched in June 2006, talented people from around the world can apply to settle in Hong Kong without first securing an offer of local employment. Up to the end of 2012, 8 684 applications had been received. Twenty-five selection exercises were conducted and 2 392 applicants were allotted places - 2 202 under the General Points Test (GPT) and 190 under the Achievement-based Points Test (APT). Successful applicants under the GPT were mainly from financial and accounting services, information technology and telecommunications, and commerce and trade. Under the APT, successful applicants mainly came from the sports, arts and culture sectors.

Changes have been made to the scheme since January 2008 to attract more aspiring young talents as well as professionals with significant accomplishments and proven ability. These changes include lifting the upper age limit and adjusting the marking scheme under the GPT. From February 2008 to December 2012, the average monthly applications intake was 164, a substantial increase when compared with the average monthly intake of 67 before the changes. It indicates that the changes have been effective in attracting more applications from quality migrants.

Capital Investment Entrant Scheme (CIES)

The CIES was launched in October 2003 with the objective of facilitating the entry for residence of capital investment entrants, i.e. persons who wish to make capital investment in Hong Kong but would not be engaged in the running of any business here. The entrant is allowed to make his choice of investments among permissible assets without the need to establish or join in a business.

Since March 16, 2009, applicants under the CIES have been able to, at their own cost, engage a Certified Public Accountant (Practising) (who is a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CPA) to issue a report) to demonstrate that they meet the asset requirement under paragraph 2.1(b) of the Scheme Rules. The arrangement is optional and will not affect the result of their application. As at the end of 2012, 12 391 applicants had submitted applications with a CPA report, amounting to around 64 per cent of the new applications received, and 8 864 of them were granted Approval-in-principle or Formal Approval.

In 2010, the Government reviewed and amended the rules of the CIES. The following amendments were introduced to the CIES with effect from October 14, 2010:

i) the threshold of investment (and net assets/net equity requirement) for admission to Hong Kong under the CIES is raised from $6.5 million to $10 million;

ii) real estate is suspended temporarily as a class of Permissible Investment Assets (PIA) under the CIES; and

iii) an insurer authorised to carry on Class C business as specified in Part 2 of the First Schedule to the Insurance Companies Ordinance is permitted to act as a financial intermediary for the purposes of the CIES.

The Government will review the CIES in 2013 in order to ensure that the Scheme is up to date and would continue to serve the overall best interests of Hong Kong.

As at the end of 2012, 26 492 applications had been received. A total of 16 915 applicants had made the requisite investments and were given formal approval to reside in Hong Kong. They invested a total of $129.8 billion in permissible investment assets, representing an average of $7.67 million per entrant. Additionally, a total of 1 724 applicants were given Approval-in-principle to enter Hong Kong to make the requisite investments. The monthly average of applications received was 542 in 2012.

Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates (IANG)

The IANG was launched on May 19, 2008, to attract non-local graduates to stay/return and work in Hong Kong so as to strengthen Hong Kong's human resources and competitiveness. The arrangements have been well received since they were launched. As at the end of 2012, 22 115 non-local graduates had been given permission to stay/return and work in Hong Kong.

Visa facilitation measures

Pre-arrival registration for Taiwan residents (PAR)

Based on the principle of reciprocity, the Government further streamlined the immigration arrangements for Taiwan residents to visit Hong Kong. With effect from September 1, 2012, eligible Taiwan residents may submit pre-arrival registration using the e-Service platform "PAR" on the GovHK website free of charge. The computer system will process the registration and display the result instantly. Successful registrants will be able to visit Hong Kong with a self-printed Notification Slip for PAR and a travel document valid for re-entry to Taiwan for at least six months. Each PAR is valid for two months and good for two entries to Hong Kong as a visitor for up to 30 days on each landing.

PAR is a simple, convenient and free-of-charge online service, the standard of which (i.e. finalised on the day of application) has already been covered in the Department's performance pledge. It has been well received by Taiwan visitors since it was launched. As at the end of 2012, 129 699 Taiwan residents had successfully submitted PAR.

Law enforcement

Enforcement actions against illegal employment and parallel trade activities

In 2012, 13 701 operations against illegal employment were conducted, with 5 849 suspected illegal workers and 876 employers arrested.

The Department made concerted efforts to combat offences involving parallel trade activities. Since September 2012, the Department has stepped up enforcement actions by mounting a series of anti-illegal worker operations codenamed "Windsand". As at January 31, 2013, a total of 599 Mainland visitors were arrested for breaching their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading, and 10 local employers were arrested on suspicion of employing illegal workers. Among them, 92 Mainland visitors were convicted and sentenced to between four weeks and two months' imprisonment. According to the existing mechanism, the Department passed the particulars of those Mainland visitors who had been convicted for illegal employment in Hong Kong to the Mainland authorities for cancellation of their exit endorsements and they would be prohibited from visiting Hong Kong for two years. For persons suspected of being involved in parallel trading but who had not been prosecuted, their future arrival would be closely scrutinised. They will be refused entry and repatriated to the Mainland if their purposes of visit are dubious. Meanwhile, our Special Operation Teams at control points conducted spot checks on arriving visitors who were suspected of being parallel traders. As at February 6, 2013, around 2 400 Mainland visitors had been refused permission to enter due to suspected involvement in parallel trade activities.

Immigration measures for Mainland pregnant women

In order to prevent Mainland pregnant women who do not have prior booking of obstetric service with local hospitals from entering Hong Kong for delivery, the Department has strengthened the immigration measures including proactive interception at control points; analysis of the trend and methods used by them on gate-crashing, so as to arrange targeted interception and joint operations with other departments; rigorous prosecution against Mainland pregnant women who have sought to give birth in Hong Kong by overstaying or other illicit means; and strengthening of investigation and subsequent prosecution against intermediaries or other persons assisting Mainland pregnant women to give birth in Hong Kong.

In 2012, 61 831 Mainland pregnant women were intercepted at control points, of whom 4 202 without prior booking for obstetric services at local hospitals were refused permission to land. Their information was passed on to the Mainland authorities to prevent them from taking the dangerous move of seeking emergency admission to local hospitals shortly before labour. In 2012, the Department prosecuted 359 Mainland pregnant women who had overstayed in Hong Kong for delivery and four Mainland intermediaries.

Since the enhancement of immigration measures and enforcement actions, the number of Mainland pregnant women seeking emergency admission to local hospitals has declined substantially from an average of around 90 cases per month in the first quarter to 20 in the last quarter of 2012, proving the effectiveness of the measures.

Bogus marriages uncovered

The Department has been very concerned about non-Hong Kong residents obtaining permission to stay in Hong Kong via the means of bogus marriage. A special task force has been set up to gather intelligence through various avenues and thorough investigation will be conducted once prima facie evidence comes to light. If there is sufficient evidence, those involved will be prosecuted.

To further combat bogus marriage cases, the Marriage Registries have stepped up checking on suspected cases, while the Investigation Sub-division has also initiated investigation into any suspected bogus marriages. With the new measures in place, a number of suspected cases were swiftly detected and the persons involved were convicted of relevant offences.

In 2012, 25 Mainland residents and 215 Hong Kong residents were convicted of offences relating to bogus marriages. The 240 people convicted were sentenced to jail terms ranging from four to 32 months.

Deterrence of global illegal migration activities and combating forged travel documents

The Department has for years worked with international and local law enforcement agencies to combat global illegal migration and document fraud. The Anti-Illegal Migration Agency was set up to fight against transnational illegal migration and investigate cases involving Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passports. A proactive approach was adopted against transnational crime by conducting joint operations with international and local law enforcement agencies. In 2012, a total of 28 219 operations were conducted and 41 288 departing or transit passengers were spot checked.

In 2012, the number of forged travel documents detected decreased by 17 per cent from 829 in 2011 to 688 in 2012. Concerning forged smart Hong Kong identity cards, a total of 171 were detected, down 25 per cent when compared to 228 in 2011. The deterrent effect was obvious.

Screening of claims against torture

The Immigration (Amendment) Ordinance 2012 (the Ordinance), which underpins the enhanced administrative mechanism for torture claims, was passed by the Legislative Council in July 2012 and came into operation on December 3, 2012, putting in place statutory procedures for handling torture claims. The Ordinance provides a statutory process for making and determining claims, including how a torture claim is made, the time limit for a claimant to return the torture claim form, the requirements for the Department to arrange screening interviews and issue written notices of decision, how a claimant who is aggrieved by the decision may lodge an appeal to be handled by a statutory Torture Claims Appeal Board, and so forth.

In 2012, a total of 1 174 torture claim cases was received - down 18 per cent from 1 432 cases in 2011. The claimants mainly came from South or Southeast Asian countries. As at December 2012, the Department had processed 4 055 claims, of which 90 per cent were provided with publicly funded legal assistance. Of those, decisions were made on 2 721 claims. At present, there are 4 892 outstanding cases. The Department believes that the statutory mechanism, while maintaining high standards of fairness, will help reduce procedural abuse.

Management and operation of Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC)

The CIC is an immigration detention facility for immigration offenders (18 years old or above) awaiting repatriation, removal or deportation in accordance with the Immigration Ordinance. Since the Department took over the management and operation of the CIC from the Correctional Services Department on April 15, 2010, the management and operation of the CIC has been running smoothly. As at December 2012, there were 375 detainees held in the CIC.

Travel documents

During 2012, 644 653 HKSAR passports were issued, representing an increase of 11.9 per cent compared with the 575 867 passports issued in 2011.

Visa-free access for HKSAR passport holders

At present, including the addition of the Republic of Montenegro and the Republic of Kazakhstan to the list in 2012, 147 countries and territories have granted visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to holders of HKSAR passports. The Department will continue to lobby for visa-free access for HKSAR passport holders to visit more countries and territories.

Assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress outside Hong Kong

The Assistance to Hong Kong Residents Unit (AHU) works closely with the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the HKSAR (OCMFA), the Chinese diplomatic and consular missions overseas, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office overseas, the Office of the Government of the HKSAR in Beijing, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (Guangdong), the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (Taiwan) and other government departments to provide assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress outside Hong Kong. In 2012, a total of 199 377 calls involving 1 791 requests for assistance were handled by the officers of the 1868 telephone hotline. Most requests were related to loss of travel documents, hospitalisation, accidents or death cases outside Hong Kong. In addition, the Department has set up an emergency reinforcement team so that more staff can be deployed to answer emergency calls and public enquiries if necessary, or be sent to the countries or places in question to provide prompt assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress.

Registration of Outbound Travel Information (ROTI)

Hong Kong residents can register their contact details and itineraries outside Hong Kong before setting out on their trips via the ROTI service. The information provided can help the AHU to contact and help Hong Kong residents in the event of an emergency outside Hong Kong. ROTI registrants will receive updates on Outbound Travel Alerts (OTAs) and related public information via MyGovHK and, depending on the situation, via SMS on a mobile phone. Since the introduction of ROTI on December 6, 2010, a total of 24 962 Hong Kong residents had registered for the service.

Since the rollout of ROTI, the Department has been working with the Security Bureau and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer to enhance the ROTI service. With effect from mid-February 2012, registrants may choose to enter their overseas mobile phone number and receive SMS via their registered overseas mobile phone. This enhanced function provides a convenient and cost-effective service to those Hong Kong residents who are studying or working overseas without using the roaming services of their Hong Kong mobile phones. Moreover, starting from July 23, 2012, upon creation and change of itinerary, the registrants would be informed of the OTAs in force in the new destination country.

Electronic services

Members of the public are required to complete the paper form BDR93 ("Information required for registration of birth/re-registration of birth") to register their newborn babies at birth registries. To shorten parents' waiting time, a new electronic form was introduced on February 24, 2012, and members of the public may opt to complete and submit the information required online while making an appointment via the e-Services platform. This e-submission of information helps to enhance the efficiency of birth registration.

Civil Celebrants of Marriages Scheme

The Civil Celebrants of Marriages Scheme was launched on March 13, 2006. By the end of 2012, a total of 2 017 civil celebrants had been appointed. They have so far given a total of 149 415 marriage notices, representing 39.7 per cent of total applications, while 147 678 marriages have been solemnised by them, representing 41.7 per cent of total marriage registrations.

The Department will continue to monitor the services provided by civil celebrants and review the running of the scheme to ensure that people are able to enjoy flexible, diversified and satisfactory marriage solemnisation services.

Recruitment of service staff

In 2012, a total of 180 Immigration Officers and 227 Immigration Assistants were appointed. Of these, all the Immigration Officers and 185 Immigration Assistants have already joined the workforce after induction training. In the 2013-14 financial year we will recruit about 240 staff (including 180 Immigration Officers and 60 Immigration Assistants) to fill vacancies due to staff wastage. To meet demand for manpower resources, a new round of open recruitment for Immigration Officers was conducted in June 2012 and the relevant selection procedures are now in progress. For Immigration Assistants, a fresh round of open recruitment has just been launched. We anticipate admitting the first batch of new recruits in July 2013.

Awards

Last year, the Department continued to provide a high standard of services, and this was recognised through various awards. Six members of the Department were commended in the Secretary for the Civil Service's Commendation Award in recognition of their consistently outstanding performance. Since the introduction of this award scheme in 2004, it was the ninth consecutive year that our officers were commended. Further to the Grand Award (Public Organisations) of the Ombudsman's Awards received by the Department in 1999, 2008 and 2010, two colleagues received Ombudsman's Awards 2012 for Officers of Public Organisations, making 2012 the 14th consecutive year that our officers were awarded. In the same year, the officer with the highest number of votes for the Most Courteous Immigration Control Officers organised by the Department was appointed by the Hong Kong Tourism Board as Hong Kong Courtesy Ambassador. In addition, a member of the Department also won an Individual Award in the Hong Kong International Airport Customer Service Excellence Programme organised by the Airport Authority Hong Kong. Additionally, the Chief Executive paid tribute to members of the Department who continued to provide quality service to the community during the passage of typhoon Vicente in July 2012. In recognition of its contributions in practising social responsibility, the Department was awarded the Caring Organisation Logo by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service for the sixth consecutive year. At the same time, two members of our Department were awarded as Caring Ambassadors for their active participation in and support for society. All these awards showcase our sincerity and dedication in striving for excellence. We shall continue to provide top quality services with professionalism and dedication.

Vision for 2013

Strengthening enforcement actions

This year, in order to continue to fully complement the "zero quota" policy on Mainland pregnant women adopted by the Government, the Department will enhance examination of these visitors at various control points and spare no effort in combating intermediaries assisting them to give birth in Hong Kong.

The Department will maintain its efforts against parallel traders by enhancing the exchange of intelligence with local and Mainland law enforcement agencies and continuing to take rigorous enforcement actions to crack down on illicit activities from time to time at different locations. Meanwhile, the Department has established a monitoring list of suspected parallel traders which includes information of persons suspected to be involved in parallel trading activities through various means, including information of arrested and convicted persons, intelligence and analysis of immigration data. When they seek entry in the future, the Department will conduct examination, and if their purposes of entry are in doubt, refuse their entry and repatriate them to the Mainland immediately.

Enhancement of control point facilities and commencement of new control points

With regard to control point facilities, improvement works are being carried out in stages at the Lok Ma Chau Control Point passenger terminal. The first stage, which concerns the arrival facilities (southbound), commenced on November 21, 2011, and is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2013. The second stage, which concerns the departure facilities (northbound), will take place afterwards. It is expected that the whole project will be completed in 2013. The number of self-service e-Channels will be increased from 20 to 33. After the completion of the improvement works, the number of traditional counters and e-Channels for processing immigration clearance will be increased to 83 in total.

In addition, improvement works are also being carried out at the Man Kam To Control Point passenger terminal. The improvement works will double the number of e-Channels from nine to 18 and increase the parking bays for cross-boundary coaches. The project was launched in 2011 and is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2013.

In the coming few years, there will be a number of new control points, including the new cruise terminal at Kai Tak, which is expected to commence service in mid-2013; the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link; the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge; etc. The Department will actively work for the development and continue to provide efficient immigration services to the travelling public.

Setting up of Immigration Team in Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Chengdu

The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Chengdu (CDETO) of the Government of the HKSAR was set up in September 2006 to promote economic and trade ties and co-operation, as well as exchanges on other fronts, between the HKSAR and five Mainland provinces, namely Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan and Shaanxi, and the Municipality of Chongqing. The Chief Executive announced in the 2013 Policy Address a plan to set up an Immigration Division in the CDETO. The new division will enhance support services to Hong Kong residents in the surrounding regions, provide immigration-related information to the public and handle related enquiries. The Department will actively work with the relevant bureaus in making the necessary preparations and arrangements.

Information Systems Strategy Review

On the recommendation of the third Information Systems Strategy Review (ISS) in end 2010, the feasibility study on the first ISS project for the Implementation of New Information Technology Infrastructure was completed and funding approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council secured in December 2011. The tender exercise is now under way. The feasibility study on the second ISS project for the Implementation of the New Immigration Control System was also completed in July 2012. With the support of the Legislative Council Panel on Security in December 2012, the funding application will be tabled for discussion in the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council in early 2013. The new Immigration Control System aims to cope with continuous passenger growth and to tie in with the future needs and developments of all control points. It is targeted to be implemented by phases from the end of 2015. For other ISS projects, relevant feasibility studies will be conducted in phases as scheduled.

With a view to enhancing clearance efficiency at various control points, the Department plans to introduce a non-stamping clearance service for all visitors in the first quarter of 2013. Arriving visitors will be issued with a landing slip bearing the conditions and limit of stay in lieu of stamps on their travel documents. Upon departure, no landing slip or stamping will be given to these visitors.

The Director of Immigration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki (fourth right), chairs the Immigration Department year-end review for 2012 today (February 8)

The Director of Immigration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki (fourth right), chairs the Immigration Department year-end review for 2012 today (February 8).