Immigration Department Review 2015 (with photos)

1 February 2016

The Director of Immigration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki, today (February 1) delivered the year-end review of the Immigration Department's work in 2015 including its future outlook. The following is a summary of the Department's major activities in 2015:

Traffic at control points

Over 296 million passengers passed through our control points in 2015, representing an increase of 2.1 per cent as compared with the figure for 2014. There was a slight drop in visitor arrivals last year. The total number of visitor arrivals reached 59.3 million, representing a 2.5 per cent decrease compared with 2014, of which 13.17 million visitors travelled through the Airport Control Point, while 41.38 million visitors and 4.75 million visitors passed through land boundary control points and sea control points respectively.

With effect from April 13, 2015, the Mainland authorities put in place the "one trip per week" Individual Visit Endorsements to replace the "multiple-entry" Individual Visit Endorsements for residents of Shenzhen. In 2015, the total number of Mainland visitor arrivals was 45.62 million, which was 2.9 per cent lower than in 2014. Moreover, the number of other visitors in 2015 was 13.68 million, representing a decrease of 1.2 per cent compared with 2014.

Facilitation of people movement

Extension of e-Channel service

To further enhance the Department's handling capacity and efficiency, we have effectively utilised information technology and extended the e-Channel service to accommodate more passengers. As at the end of 2015, a total of 437 e-Channels had been installed at all control points, including 123 multi-purpose e-Channels which can be flexibly deployed for use by eligible Hong Kong residents or visitors.

To further assist visually impaired persons in enjoying self-service immigration clearance, e-Channels with a voice navigation function were extended from Lok Ma Chau Spur Line and Macau Ferry Terminal Control Points to the Shenzhen Bay Control Point in April 2015.

Starting from May 2014, eligible holders of an electronic Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau (e-EEP) were able to use the e-Channel service after successful completion of arrival clearance at traditional counters upon their first visit to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). By the end of 2015, about 10 million Mainland residents arrived in Hong Kong using an e-EEP, with a total of more than 43.8 million arrivals and departures.

As regards the arrangements for mutual use of automated immigration clearance services, around 7 200 HKSAR passport holders had enrolled to use the services of the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Singapore or the Federal Republic of Germany by the end of 2015. The Government will continue to liaise with countries and regions which have a close relationship with Hong Kong in tourism and economic development to implement reciprocal use of automated immigration clearance service for visitors. We believe this will allow greater travel convenience for people in Hong Kong and our partner economies, which in turn will enhance economic, social and cultural ties.

In addition, the Registered Traveller service of the United Kingdom was extended to HKSAR electronic passport holders with effect from January 25, 2016. Eligible Hong Kong visitors who have successfully applied for and paid the required fee may now use the automated immigration clearance system for performing immigration clearance at participating airports in United Kingdom.

Immigration Mobile Application

Since the launch of the Hong Kong Immigration Mobile Application in December 2013, around 111 000 downloads have been recorded. The Mobile Application not only provides the latest information on the estimated passenger waiting time at major land boundary control points for Hong Kong residents and visitors, but also posts the latest updates and information on our frequently used services.

Facilitation to cross-boundary students (CBS)

With reference to the figures from the Education Bureau, the number of CBS in the 2015/16 school year was around 28 000. To facilitate the immigration clearance of CBS, designated counters have been reserved during peak hours to expedite the clearance of CBS, while six designated e-Channels for CBS are also operating at Lo Wu Control Point. Moreover and another six designated e-Channels for CBS have been operating at Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point since May 2015.

To further assist CBS travelling between the Mainland and Hong Kong, the Government has, with the agreement of the Mainland authorities, 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. In order to provide speedier and safer clearance for CBS, the on-board clearance service is currently available at the Man Kam To, Sha Tau Kok and Lok Ma Chau control points. In addition, making use of information technology, the Simplified Clearance Procedure has been implemented at the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Shenzhen Bay and Lo Wu control points to further facilitate clearance for CBS. This procedure is also applicable to CBS using the on-board clearance service at the above-mentioned control points. To enhance the handling capacity of the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line and Lok Ma Chau and Man Kam To control points, more parking bays for cross-boundary coaches and nanny buses were also provided.

Resumption of service and enhancement of control point facilities

Ferry services for cross-boundary passengers between Hong Kong and Macau or the Mainland from Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal resumed on January 28, 2016, with immigration clearance services operating from 7am to 10pm.

With regard to control point facilities, improvement works at the Lok Ma Chau Control Point passenger terminal were completed in March 2015. The number of e-Channels has increased from the original 20 to 33 and the number of traditional counters and e-Channels has increased to 83 in total. In addition, the construction of two additional kiosks for private cars was completed in September 2015. The number of kiosks for private cars has been increased to 16.

To cope with the growth in air passenger traffic, the construction of a new Midfield Concourse and its auxiliary facilities at the Hong Kong International Airport has been completed. The Midfield Concourse commenced operation in December 2015. With the capacity to serve an additional 10 million passengers every year, the Department will flexibly deploy manpower to continue providing quality immigration clearance services to members of the public and visitors.

Enhanced arrangement for processing loss of entry identification documents for returning Hong Kong and Macau residents

The enhanced arrangement for processing loss of entry identification documents for returning Hong Kong and Macau residents was implemented in January 2016. Following the implementation, the procedures for reporting loss of travel documents and to present for subsequent departure have been further streamlined and the processing time has been shortened.

Under the new arrangement, if a Hong Kong resident loses his or her identification document used to enter Macau and has no other document for departure, he or she may proceed directly to Macau's ferry terminals for departure formalities, other than proceeding to the Immigration Department Building in Taipa, Macau, to report the loss and applying for the Declaration of Loss of Document in advance. He/she may present for departure clearance to return to Hong Kong after identity verification. However, he or she is still required to report the case to the Police if the loss involves a criminal act. Moreover, if the case requires verification of identity with the Department, the procedure has been speeded up by shortening the processing time by at least 30 minutes. Reciprocally, the enhanced arrangement is also applicable to Macau residents who have lost their entry identification documents in Hong Kong.

Attracting talent from outside Hong Kong

General Employment Policy (GEP)

Hong Kong maintains an open policy towards professionals and entrepreneurs entering the city for employment or investment. The prevailing GEP allows entry of those with special skills, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in Hong Kong, or who can contribute substantially to the economy. Moreover, to make the assessment criteria under the GEP investment stream more transparent and thereby attract more foreign entrepreneurs to establish their business in Hong Kong, the Department has specified the main consideration factors under the GEP investment stream since May 4, 2015. In addition, for those applicants who wish to establish or join in start-up business in Hong Kong and are supported by government-backed programmes, their applications would also be favourably considered. In 2015, 34 403 foreign professionals and entrepreneurs were admitted under this policy.

Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP)

The ASMTP has attracted a wide variety of professionals from the Mainland to come and work in Hong Kong since its implementation in July 2003. The main sectors of employment were academic research and education, arts and culture, and commerce and trade. In 2015, a total of 9 229 applications were approved.

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. In 2015, 208 applicants were allotted quotas - 192 under the General Points Test (GPT) and 16 under the Achievement-based Points Test (APT). Successful applicants under the GPT were mainly from the information technology and telecommunications, architecture, surveying, engineering and construction, financial and accounting services, and manufacturing industries sectors. Under the APT, successful applicants mainly came from the sports, broadcasting and entertainment sectors.

Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates (IANG)

The IANG was launched in May 2008 to further attract non-local graduates to stay/return and work in Hong Kong so as to strengthen Hong Kong's human capital and competitiveness. The arrangements have been well received. In 2015, 10 269 non-local graduates were given permission to stay/return and work in Hong Kong.

Admission Scheme for the Second Generation of Chinese Hong Kong Permanent Residents (ASSG)

To attract the second generation of Chinese Hong Kong permanent residents to return to Hong Kong from overseas and enhance our economic competitiveness, the ASSG pilot scheme was launched on May 4, 2015. Applicants are not required to have secured an offer of employment in Hong Kong upon application. They will normally be granted an initial stay of one year on time limitation only without other conditions of stay. They can then apply for an extension of stay if they have secured an offer of employment which is at a level commonly taken up by degree holders and the remuneration package is at market level; or if they have established/joined in business in Hong Kong. As at December 31, 2015, the Department had received 211 applications, of which 108 applications were approved. The majority of approved applicants came from the USA, Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom and most of them were between 18 and 30.

Relaxation of stay arrangements for talent, professionals and entrepreneurs

To take a more proactive approach in recruiting and retaining talent, professionals and entrepreneurs from outside Hong Kong and hence expand our pool of talent, the Department implemented a series of enhancement measures with effect from May 4, 2015, including the relaxation of stay arrangements for entrants admitted under various admission schemes. Specifically, the duration of stay of entrants admitted under the GEP and ASMTP, and QMAS entrants under the GPT, were relaxed from an initial stay of one year to the current two years. Also, the extension pattern was changed from 2-2-3 years pattern to the current 3-3 years pattern. Top-tier entrants under these immigration schemes who have worked or resided in Hong Kong under the respective schemes for at least two years, and have an assessable income for salaries tax above HK$2 million, may be granted a six-year extension on time limitation only without other conditions of stay upon application for the first extension. Those successful QMAS entrants under the APT would be granted upon entry eight years of stay on time limitation only, without other conditions of stay. The Department also enhanced the GPT scoring scheme in order to attract more talent with an outstanding academic background and international work experience to work in Hong Kong.

From its implementation in May to end of 2015, 652 top-tier entrants under the GEP, ASMTP and GPT of QMAS were granted extensions to stay in Hong Kong for six years. They are permitted to stay in Hong Kong on time limitation only without other conditions of stay, and they may change their employment freely without the need to obtain prior approval from the Department. This arrangement facilitates their long-term development in Hong Kong, and thus helps retain them in Hong Kong in the long run.

Promotion of ASSG and other talent admission schemes

To step up overseas publicity, officers of the Department visited six European countries (namely the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain and Ireland) in June 2015, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand in November. The officers organised publicity activities and introduced the various talent admission schemes to the second generation of emigrated Hong Kong residents and others who are interested in developing a career in Hong Kong. The Department will continue to work with Economic and Trade Offices (ETOs) outside Hong Kong to step up publicity and promote the various talent admission schemes.

Extension of validity of APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC)

To offer greater travel convenience to business travellers from APEC economies and further promote commercial connections within the region, the validity of APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) issued to successful applicants whose applications were submitted on or after September 1, 2015 was extended from three to five years. In 2015, a total of 9 238 ABTCs were issued.

Law enforcement

Enforcement actions against illegal employment and parallel trade activities

The Department is concerned about illegal employment offences. In 2015, 13 788 operations against illegal employment were conducted, representing an increase of 2.4 per cent compared with 2014. A total of 6 762 suspected illegal workers and 680 employers were arrested last year, representing an increase of 7.6 per cent compared with 2014.

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 the end of 2015, a total of 2 646 Mainland visitors had been arrested for breaching their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading, and 17 local employers had been arrested on suspicion of employing illegal workers. Among them, 216 Mainland visitors were convicted and sentenced to four weeks to three months’ imprisonment. In accordance with the existing mechanism, the Department has passed the particulars of the convicted Mainland residents to the Mainland authorities for cancellation of their exit endorsements and they will be prohibited from visiting Hong Kong for two years.

The Department has established a monitoring list of suspected parallel traders, which contains information on persons suspected to be involved in parallel trading activities collected through various means, including information from arrested and convicted persons, intelligence and analysis of immigration data. When they seek entry in future, the Department will conduct examination and, if their purpose of entry is in doubt, refuse their entry and repatriate them to the Mainland immediately. Meanwhile, spot checks and special operations will continue to be conducted at control points to detect visitors who are suspected of being involved in parallel trade activities. As at the end of 2015, information on more than 18 800 suspected Mainland parallel traders had been included in the monitoring list, with over 48 100 entries refused in total.

Immigration measures for Mainland pregnant women

In order to tie in with the "zero quota" policy implemented on January 1, 2013, and prevent Mainland pregnant women who do not have prior booking for obstetric services with local hospitals from entering Hong Kong for delivery, the Department has strengthened the complementary immigration measures including proactive interception at control points and analysis of the trends and methods used by them on gate-crashing, so as to arrange targeted interception and joint operations with other departments. In 2015, 46 977 Mainland pregnant women were intercepted at control points, of whom 4 954 were without prior booking for obstetric services at local hospitals and were refused permission to land. Their particulars were passed on to the Mainland authorities to prevent them from taking the dangerous move of seeking emergency admission to local hospitals shortly before labour.

A task group has been established to focus investigation on Mainland pregnant women who might have contracted a bogus marriage with Hong Kong residents, overstayed, or used other illicit means to give birth in Hong Kong, as well as the intermediaries or other persons assisting them in doing so. If it is suspected that a person has made false representation to Immigration officers upon birth registration at Birth Registries or has given birth in Hong Kong through bogus marriage, the Department will initiate investigation and subsequent prosecution. In 2015, the Department prosecuted 46 Mainland pregnant women who had overstayed in Hong Kong for delivery and 15 who had sought to give birth in Hong Kong by illicit means. Another two Hong Kong residents were also prosecuted for assisting them in giving birth in Hong Kong. Those convicted were sentenced to up to 20 months' imprisonment.

Since the enhancement of immigration measures and enforcement actions, the number of Mainland pregnant women seeking delivery services at local hospitals without prior booking has declined substantially, from an average of around 160 cases per month in the last quarter of 2011 to around 8 in 2015, 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. The Marriage Registries have also stepped up vigilance on suspected cases. After thorough investigation on each suspected case with a view to collecting sufficient evidence, we can prosecute the suspected persons involved. In 2015, 113 people were convicted of offences relating to bogus marriages and were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 6 to 22 months.

The Department smashed a syndicate arranging cross-boundary bogus marriages for young people during operations conducted in July 2014. During the operations, investigators arrested 69 suspects including the syndicate's mastermind and three core members, and seized a large number of Hong Kong and Mainland marriage certificates, birth certificates, copies and related items. In 2015, the mastermind and one core member were convicted of conspiracy to defraud and were sentenced to 22 and 17 months' imprisonment respectively. As at the end of 2015, another 23 arrestees were convicted and the maximum penalty was 18 months’ imprisonment.

Deterrence of global illegal migration activities and combating travel document forgery

The Department has long worked with overseas, Mainland and local law enforcement agencies to combat illegal international migration and document fraud. The Anti-Illegal Migration Agency was set up to fight against transnational illegal migration and investigate cases involving HKSAR passports. The Department often holds regular meetings with local consular missions to discuss the tackling of problems relating to illegal migration, crimes and terrorism. Meanwhile, a proactive approach was adopted for crimes involving transnational illegal migration by conducting joint operations with international and local law enforcement agencies. In December 2015, a special operation codenamed "Sky League" was conducted by the Department at Hong Kong International Airport, with the participation of the local consulate representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand and the USA as advisers or observers.

The Department is extremely concerned about the use of forged travel documents in illicit activities including illegal migration, crimes or terrorism, which pose a threat to immigration control and the security of the countries concerned. The Department spares no effort in combating travel document forgery. In 2015, a total of 27 257 operations against forgery activities were conducted and 34 037 departing or transiting passengers were spot-checked. In 2015, a total of 511 forged travel documents were detected, representing a slight decrease of 2 per cent compared with 523 in 2014. A total of 216 forged smart HK identity cards were detected in 2015, representing an increase of 48 per cent compared with 146 in 2014. The majority of forged identity cards detected was used by illegal workers and were of poor quality, and could be spotted by members of the public. The Department has been working closely with the local, Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies and consulates in the exchange of information and intelligence pertaining to forged documents and the Department will take decisive action to combat such crimes.

To prevent the use of forged HK identity cards for illicit purposes, the Department will continue to deliver talks on the security features of Smart HK identity cards, and the ways of identifying forged ones, to personnel in the private and government sectors who often handle identity documents in their work, so as to enhance the awareness of frontline staff.

Review of arrangements and investigations regarding parents who have not registered births of children within the prescribed time limit    

The Immigration Department has reviewed the relevant arrangements regarding parents who have not registered births of children within the prescribed time limit. If parents fail to register the birth of their child within a period of 42 days after birth, the Department will send reminder letters to their last known address at three, six and nine months after the birth of the child by ordinary and then registered mail, to remind them of their duty to register the birth of their child as soon as possible. During this period, the Department will attempt to contact the parents through other means if considered necessary. If the parents concerned are yet to be reached or the birth registration records remain outstanding after repeated reminders, the case will be forwarded to the Investigation Division for follow-up. Depending on individual case circumstances, the Department will also seek assistance from the Social Welfare Department or the Police. If the investigation findings showed that the parents do not have a reasonable excuse for failing to register the birth of their child as required by law, the Department will bring a prosecution against them.

Concerning the 55 cases relating to parents failing to register the births of their children within the time limit, the Immigration Department is actively following up with its investigation. The Department has attempted to contact the parents by phone and through home visits. In 37 of these cases, the Department has successfully contacted the parents and followed up with post-registrations of the birth for their children. The prosecution procedure in one case has been completed and the subject was fined. Investigations on other 18 cases have been completed and the Department has proceeded to the relevant prosecution process or is seeking legal advice on prosecution matters. We will continue to contact the parents concerned and conduct further investigation on the remaining 18 cases. If no connections can be established, the parents' particulars will be logged into the Department's computer system. When they use the Department's services in the future, their contact means can be secured for follow-up action. When necessary, police assistance will be sought for locating the parents with no known traces.

Unified Screening Mechanism (USM)

The USM commenced operation on March 3, 2014. Under the USM, the Department assesses claims for non-refoulement in respect of another country lodged by foreigners not having the right to enter and remain in Hong Kong on applicable grounds including risks of torture, as defined under Part VIIC of the Immigration Ordinance (Cap. 115, Laws of Hong Kong); torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of section 8 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383, Laws of Hong Kong) and/or persecution with reference to the non-refoulement principle under Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) in one go according to the statutory mechanism of the Immigration Ordinance for assessing torture claims that meets high standards of fairness as required by law.

The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol have never applied to Hong Kong, and persons claiming non-refoulement here will not be treated as "refugees". They will not be allowed to settle in Hong Kong, regardless of the result of their claim. They must leave when the risk they allegedly face ceases to exist. That said, if a non-refoulement claim is substantiated under the USM on grounds of persecution, the claimant will be referred to the UNHCR for consideration of arrangement of resettlement in a third country.

At the commencement of the USM in March 2014, there were 6 699 non-refoulement claims pending screening. By end 2015, the Department had determined 3 165 claims, amongst which 18 claims were substantiated (including three claims substantiated by the Torture Claims Appeal Board/Non-refoulement Claims Petition Office); and 2 299 claims were withdrawn. During the same period, the Department received another 9 687 claims, bringing the total number of claims pending screening to 10 922.

Enforcement actions non-ethnic Chinese illegal seeking illegal entry into HK and claimants taking up illegal employment in HK

In May 2015, a joint operation codenamed "Sunlever" was conducted by the Department and the Police to smash a human-smuggling syndicate that specialised in arranging nationals of South Asian countries to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong.  During the operation, a total of 14 suspects, including two masterminds, were arrested. Four of the arrested persons were convicted, with sentences ranging from three to 15 months' imprisonment. In September 2015, operation "Sunlever II" was conducted, cracking down on a human smuggling syndicate which specialised in arranging Vietnamese nationals to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong. During the operation, a total of 18 persons, including two syndicate members, were arrested. Four of the arrested persons were convicted and each was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment.

For non-refoulement claimants in Hong Kong who are illegal immigrants or overstayers, even if their claim is substantiated, they may not take up employment in Hong Kong according to the Immigration Ordinance, Cap.115. Violation of the relevant provisions is a criminal offence punishable on conviction to a fine of up to $50,000 or to imprisonment for three years. Section 38AA of the Immigration Ordinance came into effect on November 14, 2009, which prohibits illegal immigrants or people who are subject to a removal order or deportation order from taking any employment, whether paid or unpaid, or from establishing or joining in any business. In October 2010, the Court of Appeal (CA) handed down the sentencing guideline in respect of the relevant provision stating that 15 months' imprisonment should be imposed on a person convicted of an offence under that provision. As at the end of 2015, 1 117 persons had been arrested on suspicion of breaching the said Ordinance.

Enforcement actions against agents for intentionally arranging persons to lodge non-refoulement claims in HK

A rising trend has been observed in which claimants have lodged claims for non-refoulement upon arrival in Hong Kong. A total of 150 cases were referred from control points (monthly average: around 12.5 cases) in the period from March 3, 2013 to March 2, 2014. From the commencement of the USM on March 3, 2014 to the end of 2014, there were about 200 non-refoulement claim cases referred from control points (monthly average: 20 cases). In 2015, the number of non-refoulement claims referred from control points was 322 cases (monthly average: around 26.8 cases), meaning that the monthly average had more than doubled since with 2013. The Department will continue to strengthen control at immigration clearance and conduct special operations against doubtful visitors at control points. Further investigation will be conducted on whether or not there is any person who intentionally arranged for these doubtful visitors to lodge claims for non-refoulement in Hong Kong.

In recent months, the Department has had multiple meetings with the Consul General (CG) of India in Hong Kong to express our profound concern against Indian agencies allegedly arranging for Indian nationals to enter Hong Kong for unlawful employment. We pointed out to CG that such activities may involve a number of serious criminal offences and requested the Indian Government to render all possible assistance in combating such crimes. In December 2015, the Department together with the Police also paid a visit to India to follow up with local enforcement agencies. Other than India, the Department will soon be in contact with the local consulates of other countries, such as Vietnam and Pakistan, to discuss how to combat their nationals smuggling into or overstaying in Hong Kong, as well as those syndicates who arrange such smuggling activities.

Issuance of HKSAR passports and visa-free access

In 2015, the Department issued 756 460 HKSAR passports. The Republic of Zambia and Lao People's Democratic Republic agreed to grant visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to HKSAR passport holders in 2015. In addition, we received confirmation from the relevant government that HKSAR passport holders do not need a visa to visit Saint-Barthelemy and Saint-Martin (French Overseas Territories). Hence, a total of 154 countries and territories now grant 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 facilitate their travel to 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 (CDCMs), consulates in Hong Kong, offices of the HKSAR Government outside Hong Kong and other government departments to provide practical assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress outside Hong Kong.

In 2015, a total of 170 446 calls involving 2 529 requests for assistance were handled by officers on the 1868 telephone hotline. Most requests 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. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) launched the 24-hour hotline 12308 in September 2014 which will, according to the circumstances and needs of individual cases, refer the relevant assistance requests from Hong Kong residents to AHU for follow up.

To enhance the safety awareness of residents while travelling outside Hong Kong and encourage the use of Registration of Outbound Travel Information (ROTI), the Department organised the "Immigration Department Outbound Travel Safety Week" exhibition in February 2015 at Immigration Tower. The event reminded residents of travel tips before and during outbound travel as well as the information on seeking assistance outside Hong Kong. "Outbound Travel Tips" bookmarks were distributed to the public at the exhibition venue, the offices issuing HKSAR passports and the departure halls of Hong Kong International Airport during the event.

Registration of Outbound Travel Information (ROTI)

Hong Kong residents can register their contact details and itineraries via the ROTI service before setting out on their trips. The information provided can help the AHU to contact and assist 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 as well. As at the end of 2015, a total of 50 426 Hong Kong residents had registered for the service.

Major incidents outside Hong Kong

In 2015, several major incidents involving Hong Kong residents occurred outside Hong Kong, including the Nepal earthquake (April); the traffic accident in Hua Hin, Thailand (June); the fire incident in New Taipei City, Taiwan (June); the explosion incident in Tianjin (August); the explosion incident in Bangkok, Thailand (August) and a traffic accident in Qingyuan, Guangdong involving a Hong Kong tour group (October). The AHU worked closely with the OCMFA, the relevant CDCMs, consulates in Hong Kong, the offices of the HKSAR Government in the Mainland and other government departments to provide all practical assistance to the affected Hong Kong residents and their family members.

Civil Celebrants of Marriages Scheme

The Civil Celebrants of Marriages Scheme was launched on March 13, 2006. As at the end of 2015, a total of 2 087 civil celebrants had been appointed. They have so far given a total of 231 239 marriage notices, representing 42.3 per cent of total applications, while 230 558 marriages have been solemnised by them, representing 44.6 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 2015, a total of 127 Immigration Officers and 190 Immigration Assistants were appointed. Among them, 47 Immigration Officers and 140 Immigration Assistants have already joined the workforce after induction training. In the 2016/17 financial year, we will recruit about 160 staff (including 80 Immigration Officers and 80 Immigration Assistants) to fill vacancies due to staff turnover. To meet demand for manpower resources, new rounds of open recruitment for Immigration Officers and Immigration Assistants will be launched in the first half of 2016.

Awards

The Immigration Department has always strived for excellence in serving the public. The efforts we make to provide quality services continue to be recognised, as reflected by a number of awards granted to the Department in 2015. The Immigration Department was voted the winner of the 2015 Skytrax Award for Best Airport Immigration Service in the World Airport Survey commissioned by Skytrax, a United Kingdom-based specialist research agent of the air transport industry. The survey covered a total of 550 airports worldwide, with more than 13 million survey questionnaires on the immigration services of various airports being collected from air passengers of 112 nationalities. This award proves that our efforts to continuously improve our services are recognised by passengers from around the world. In addition, in the 2015 Hong Kong International Airport Customer Service Excellence Programme organised by the Airport Authority Hong Kong, the Department was once again awarded the Best Customer Service Enhancement Award and 18 staff were also awarded a Certificate of Appreciation in the Corporate Excellence Award.

With advanced information technology, our efforts to strengthen service quality have gained wide recognition. The Smart Identity Card and its system won the international Radiant Service Award of the 2015 Radiant eID Awards organised by the Asia Pacific Smart Card Association. The Award commended the excellence of the Immigration Department in regard to the introduction of the Smart Identity Card and its system, as well as the quality services provided to Hong Kong residents.

The Department won the Grand Award of The Ombudsman's Awards for Public Organisations again in 2015. Following on from 1999, 2008 and 2010, it was the fourth time our Department received this award, which endorses the Department's professional and proactive attitude towards complaint handling as well as our concerted efforts in providing quality services to the public. Two colleagues also received the Ombudsman's Awards for Officers of Public Organisations, making 2015 the 17th consecutive year that our officers were so awarded. In addition, five members of the Department were commended in the Secretary for the Civil Service's Commendation Award in recognition of their consistently outstanding performance. This was the 12th consecutive year that our officers were commended.

The Department has been awarded the Caring Organisation Logo by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in consecutive years since 2006, and was awarded the 10 Years Plus Caring Organisation Logo in 2015/16 in recognition of our commitment in caring for the community, employees and the environment. In addition, the officer with the highest number of votes in the Most Courteous Immigration Control Officers, organised annually by the Department, was appointed by the Hong Kong Tourism Board as the Hong Kong Courtesy Ambassador for promoting the courtesy value of the Department. The Immigration Department will continue to strive with devotion and serve the public in excellence.

Launching the Hong Kong Immigration Department YouTube Channel

The Department launched an official YouTube Channel, "Hong Kong Immigration Department", (the Channel) on February 1, 2016 to give the public access to information on the services and activities of the Department anytime and anywhere.

Video clips uploaded to the Channel are grouped under three categories, namely "Easy Access", "About Us" and "Departmental Activities". Under the "Easy Access" category, the Department has produced a series of videos which feature the services most commonly used by the public and their respective application requirements and procedures. For the other two categories, short videos introducing our work and activities have been uploaded, offering another avenue for the public to get to know the Department.

Vision for 2016

Strengthening the promotion of ASSG and other talent admission schemes

To take a more proactive approach to attract talent and professionals from outside Hong Kong, the Department will continue to visit different countries and co-operate with ETOs to promote various talent admission schemes, including ASSG, in 2016.

Comprehensive review of the strategy in handling non-refoulement claims and strengthening enforcement actions

To contain and reverse the growing number of USM claimants stranded in Hong Kong, the Government will launch a comprehensive review of the strategy in handling non-refoulement claims with a view to addressing fragilities in the areas of pre-arrival control, screening procedures, detention and enforcement. The Department will propose that the Legislative Council create a new Assistant Director post for three financial years starting from 2016/17 to support the review and to gainfully use the existing resource to expedite the screening of claims.

In light of the increasing trend of the number of non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants intercepted, the Department together with the Police will step up efforts to intercept illegal immigrants at source as well as strengthen enforcement actions against people taking up unlawful employment in Hong Kong. The Department will take stringent enforcement actions to combat such crimes.

Setting up of Immigration Division in Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Shanghai (SHETO)

Currently, Immigration Divisions are set up under the Beijing Office and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices of the Government of the HKSAR in Guangdong and Chengdu to provide practical assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress in the Mainland. The Chief Executive announced in the 2016 Policy Address the setting up of an Immigration Division under the SHETO to provide better support for Hong Kong residents in distress in the Mainland. The Department will actively work with the relevant bureaux in making the necessary preparations and arrangements.

The Third Information Systems Strategy (ISS-3) Review

To take forward the recommendations of the Third Information Systems Strategy (ISS-3) Review, the two Data Centres under the New IT Infrastructure (ITI) project commenced operation in June and October 2014 respectively, while other initiatives have also been rolled out in phases since March 2015. The New Immigration Control System (ICONS) will be implemented in phases from early 2016 to early 2017, thus enhancing the operational efficiency of control points. The first phase will include the upgrade of existing e-Channels to become multi-purpose e-Channels and the introduction of over 150 multi-purpose e-Channels to enable flexible deployment of e-Channel services according to the passenger traffic pattern. Along with the commission of new control points in the coming years, as well as the implementation of ICONS, Hong Kong’s handling capacity for inbound and outbound passengers will be furthered enhanced.

The Next Generation Smart Identity Card System (SMARTICS-2) project aims to replace the existing aging computer system and to enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness in supporting the issuance of smart Hong Kong Identity Cards. The tendering exercise is in progress and the new system is planned to be implemented in early 2018. The feasibility study on the implementation of the Next Generation Electronic Passport System (e-Passport-2) was completed in October 2014. The funding request will be tabled for discussion in the upcoming Legislative Council Finance Committee meeting. Feasibility studies on other recommendations of the ISS-3 Review are scheduled to be completed in early 2016.

The Director of Immigration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki (fourth right), chairs the press conference at the Immigration Department's year-end review of 2015 today (February 1).

The Director of Immigration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki (fourth right), chairs the press conference at the Immigration Department's year-end review of 2015 today (February 1).

Mr Chan (left) introduces the Department's official YouTube channel "Hong Kong Immigration Department".

Mr Chan (left) introduces the Department's official YouTube channel "Hong Kong Immigration Department".