26 January 2017
The Director of Immigration, Mr Tsang Kwok-wai, delivered a year-end review of the Immigration Department's work in 2016 including its future outlook today (January 26). The following is a summary of the department's major activities in 2016:
Over 296 million passengers passed through our control points in 2016, which was comparable to the figure for 2015. The total number of visitor arrivals exceeded 56.65 million, representing a 4.5 per cent decrease compared with that of 2015, of which Mainland visitor arrivals was 42.57 million, representing a decrease of 6.7 per cent when compared with that of 2015. Moreover, the number of arrivals of other visitors in 2016 was 14.09 million, which was 3 per cent higher than that of 2015. Among the visitor arrivals in 2016, 13.4 million visitors travelled through the Airport Control Point, while 38.57 million visitors and 4.69 million visitors passed through land control points and sea control points respectively.
Extension of e-Channel service
To further enhance the department's passenger clearance 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 2016, a total of 595 multi-purpose e-Channels were installed at all control points which can be flexibly deployed for use by eligible Hong Kong residents or visitors.
Following the arrangement for mutual use of automated immigration clearance service with Korea, Singapore and Germany, similar arrangement with Australia was implemented on June 20, 2016. Under the new arrangement, holders of a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) electronic passport can use the automated immigration clearance service (SmartGate) in Australia without prior enrolment, while holders of an Australian passport can enrol for the e-Channel service in Hong Kong. Moreover, in order to provide greater travel convenience to HKSAR and Korean passport holders, with effect from August 22, 2016, HKSAR electronic passport holders and Korean passport holders are able to enrol for the services directly in Korea and Hong Kong respectively without the need for pre-enrolment on the Internet. As at the end of 2016, over 11 000 HKSAR passport holders had enrolled to use such services of Korea, Singapore or Germany, while the number of visitor arrivals for HKSAR electronic passport holders using the SmartGate to enter Australia was around 47 500.
With effect from December 12, 2016, the mutual use of automated immigration clearance service with the Macau SAR had been extended to Hong Kong non-permanent residents holding a "HKSAR Document of Identity for Visa Purposes" and Macau non-permanent residents holding a "Visit Permit for Residents of Macao to HKSAR". Eligible persons of the two places may use the automated immigration clearance service of the other party after enrolment.
The Government will continue to liaise with other countries and regions with a close relationship with Hong Kong in tourism and economic development for reciprocal use of automated immigration clearance service for visitors. We believe that this will allow greater travel convenience for people in Hong Kong and our partnering economies, which in turn will enhance the economic, social and cultural ties between the places.
To provide further convenience for visitors, the department set up an in-town e-Channel Enrolment Office at the Immigration Headquarters on April 11, 2016, to facilitate eligible visitors' enrolment for e-Channel service. In addition, they may also approach the existing e-Channel Enrolment Offices at control points to enrol for the e-Channel service upon arrival.
Immigration Mobile Application
Since the launch of the Hong Kong Immigration Mobile Application in December 2013, around 136 000 downloads have been recorded. The Mobile Application not only provides Hong Kong residents and visitors with the latest information on the estimated passenger waiting time at major land boundary control points, but also posts the latest and frequently used information of our services.
Facilitation to cross-boundary students (CBS)
According to the figures from the Education Bureau, the number of CBS in the 2016/17 school year is around 28 600. To provide speedy and safe clearance for CBS, designated counters have been reserved during peak hours to expedite the clearance of CBS and six designated e-Channels for CBS are in operation at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Points respectively.
In addition, the department has implemented on-board clearance service at the Man Kam To, Sha Tau Kok and Lok Ma Chau control points. Furthermore, by making use of information technology, the Simplified Clearance Procedure has been implemented at land boundary control points to further facilitate the clearance for CBS.
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. In 2016, 35 997 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 to work in Hong Kong since its implementation in July 2003. The main sectors of employment were academic research and education, arts and culture, and financial services. In 2016, a total of 10 404 applications were approved.
Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS)
Under the QMAS launched in June 2006, talent from around the world can apply to settle in Hong Kong without first securing an offer of local employment. In 2016, 273 applicants were allotted under the quotas, with 259 under the General Points Test (GPT) and 14 under the Achievement-based Points Test (APT). Since implementation of the scheme, successful applicants under the GPT were mainly from four sectors, namely information technology and telecommunications; architecture, surveying, engineering and construction; financial and accounting services; and manufacturing. Under the APT, successful applicants mainly came from three sectors, namely sports, arts and culture, and broadcasting and entertainment.
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. In 2016, 9 289 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)
The ASSG was launched in May 2015 to attract the second generation of Chinese Hong Kong permanent residents from overseas to return to Hong Kong. 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 have established/joined in business in Hong Kong. As at the end of December 2016, the department had received 417 applications, of which 235 applications were approved. The majority of the applicants approved came from the United States, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and they held bachelor's or master's degrees in engineering, finance, information technology or design. Some of them also had relevant experience that could supplement Hong Kong's human capital.
To step up overseas publicity, officers of the department visited the United States and three European countries (the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France) in 2016. Publicity activities were organised to introduce 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.
Relaxation of stay arrangements for talent, professionals and entrepreneurs
To take a more proactive approach to recruit and retain talent, professionals and entrepreneurs from outside Hong Kong, and hence expand our pool of talent, the department has implemented a series of enhancement measures since May 2015, including the relaxation of the stay arrangements for entrants admitted under various admission schemes. Among others, top-tier entrants under the GEP, the ASMTP and the GPT under the QMAS granted to work or reside in Hong Kong under the respective schemes for at least two years and having 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 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. From its implementation to the end of 2016, 1 734 top-tier entrants benefited from the measure and were granted an extension to stay for six years.
Enforcement actions against illegal employment and parallel trade activities
The department is greatly concerned about illegal employment offences. In 2016, 16 233 operations against illegal employment were conducted, with 6 070 suspected illegal workers and 708 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 the end of 2016, a total of 3 152 Mainland visitors were arrested for breaching their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading, and 18 local employers were arrested on suspicion of employing illegal workers. Among them, 222 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 trade 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 2016, information on about 23 000 suspected Mainland parallel traders had been included in the monitoring list and refused over 63 400 entries accumulatively.
Immigration measures for Mainland pregnant women
In order to tie in with the "zero quota" policy implemented since 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 established a task group 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. Moreover, the department conducted analysis of the trends of and methods they used in gate-crashing, so as to arrange targeted interception and joint operations with other departments. In 2016, 56 358 Mainland pregnant women were intercepted at control points, of whom 5 439 without prior booking for obstetric services at local hospitals were refused permission to land. Their particulars were passed on to the Mainland authorities to prevent them from seeking entry again.
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 less than five per month in 2016, demonstrating the effectiveness of the measures with remarkable results.
Bogus marriages uncovered
The department has been very concerned about foreigners 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 2016, 98 people were convicted of offences relating to bogus marriages and were sentenced to jail terms ranging from four to 18 months.
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 is 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 and related cross-boundary crimes. Meanwhile, a proactive approach is adopted for crimes involving transnational illegal migration by conducting joint operations with international and local law enforcement agencies. In December 2016, 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, Japan, New Zealand and the US as advisers or observers.
The department is extremely concerned about the use of forged travel documents to enter Hong Kong or go to other countries by passing through Hong Kong. The department spares no effort in combating travel document forgery. In 2016, a total of 28 582 operations against forgery activities were conducted and 29 407 departing or transiting passengers were spot-checked. In 2016, a total of 461 forged travel documents and 169 forged smart HK identity cards were detected, representing decreases of 10 per cent and 22 per cent respectively when compared with 511 and 216 in 2015. The deterrent effect was obvious. 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 will continue to work 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 front-line staff.
The USM commenced its operation in March 2014. Under the mechanism, the department assesses non-refoulement claims from any foreigners who have no right to enter and remain in Hong Kong. A total of 6 699 non-refoulement claims were pending screening at the commencement of the USM. As at the end of 2016, the department had determined 6 383 claims, amongst which 48 claims were substantiated (including five claims substantiated by the Torture Claims Appeal Board), and 3 860 claims were withdrawn. During the same period, the department received a further 13 525 claims, bringing the total number of claims pending screening to 9 981, which was lower than the 11 000 pending screening claims as at the end of 2015. Amongst those pending claimants, around 80 per cent originated from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
In view of the significant increase of non-refoulement claims lodged by non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants (NECIIs), overstayers and persons refused permission to land by the department upon arrival in Hong Kong in recent years, in order to tackle against the situation, the Government commenced a comprehensive review of the strategy of handling non-refoulement claims in 2016 in four areas, comprising pre-arrival control, screening procedures, detention, and removal and enforcement. Moreover, the department established the Removal Assessment and Litigation Branch in June 2016 with an Assistant Director providing dedicated directorate steer to support the work of the comprehensive review and expedite the screening process. Together with the approved creation of 83 new positions in the department in 2016-17, 154 assessment officers and 132 staff will be deployed to assess non-refoulement claims and to provide operational support duties such as review of strategy and legislative provisions respectively.
About half of all non-refoulement claimants pending screening were NECIIs who entered Hong Kong illegally. In recent years, the number of NECIIs from the Mainland has increased significantly and the majority originated from visa-required countries, such as Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The department is very concerned about the situation, and has always maintained close liaison and intelligence exchange with the Hong Kong Police Force and the Mainland authorities for joint efforts in combating these illicit activities.
In January 2015, the department, working with the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department, the Shenzhen Municipal Public Security Bureau and the Shenzhen General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection, conducted a joint operation in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong codenamed "Firenet", which smashed a human smuggling syndicate specialising in arranging for Vietnamese nationals to seek illegal entry to Hong Kong. Two Hong Kong resident masterminds were successfully apprehended. After in-depth investigation, the two masterminds pleaded guilty to the charge of money laundering, while one of them also pleaded guilty to an additional charge of being in possession of forged Hong Kong identity cards. In December 2016, they were sentenced to 24 and 32 months' imprisonment respectively.
In March 2016, a joint operation codenamed "High Crest" was conducted by the department, the Hong Kong Police Force and the Border Control Department of Guangdong, cracking down on a cross-boundary human smuggling syndicate which specialised in arranging for non-ethnic Chinese nationals to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong. During the operation, a total of 114 suspects, including 24 core syndicate members, were arrested in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. In June 2016, a joint operation codenamed "Greatplan" was mounted, cracking down on a cross-boundary human smuggling syndicate which specialised in arranging for Vietnamese nationals to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong. A total of 51 suspects, including 17 core syndicate members, were arrested in the Mainland and Hong Kong. In August of the same year, two joint operations codenamed "Silvershield" and "Powerbow" were mounted, further cracking down on two cross-boundary human smuggling syndicates active in the Mainland and Hong Kong, which specialised in arranging for Vietnamese and South Asian nationals to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong. During the operations, a total of 99 suspects, including 46 core syndicate members, were arrested.
Apart from stepping up enforcement against syndicates, the Government commenced the Immigration (Unauthorized Entrants) (Amendment) Order 2016 on May 20, 2016, to expand the definition of "unauthorized entrants" by including major source countries of NECIIs apart from Vietnam, i.e. Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria, so as to cover the vast majority of NECIIs and enhance the penalties against smuggling of illegal immigrants from these countries in order to combat human trafficking syndicates, achieving a strong deterrent effect.
Since the implementation of the measures, the number of NECIIs intercepted or surrendered was 2 221 in 2016, representing a significant decrease of 42 per cent when compared with 3 819 in 2015. It reflected that the measures are delivering results.
The remaining half of the claimants were mainly overstayers, among which over 30 per cent were Indian nationals who currently enjoy visa-free concession. To assist bona fide Indian visitors and carry out effective immigration control, the department has introduced the Pre-arrival Registration (PAR) for Indian Nationals so as to prevent doubtful visitors with high immigration risk from coming to Hong Kong. With effect from January 23, 2017, Indian nationals must apply for and successfully complete PAR online before they can visit Hong Kong visa-free unless they belong to one of the exempted categories. The relevant online platform was launched on December 19, 2016. After collecting the required information, the computer system will process the registration and display the result instantly. PAR is free of charge and is normally valid for six months. Subject to meeting normal immigration requirements, a registrant may, during the validity of PAR, use the Notification Slip for Pre-arrival Registration for Indian Nationals printed on his or her own together with the registered Indian passport to make multiple visits to Hong Kong for a stay of up to 14 days for each visit. As at December 31, 2016, there had been a total of 2 137 Indian nationals successfully registered under PAR.
The department has always strived to expedite screening by proposing various measures under the existing legal framework, including the enhancement of screening procedures and optimisation for the use of available resources. In April 2016, the department introduced the advanced scheduling of screening interview arrangement. Under the new arrangement, an interview will be immediately scheduled upon the department's referral of the claimant to the Duty Lawyer Service after serving claim forms, thus enabling the screening interview to be conducted within three weeks after the submission of completed claim forms, reducing the average processing time from 25 weeks to around 15 weeks.
To better codify the screening procedures and prevent deliberate delay or minimise abuses, the Government has initiated the review of legislative provisions under the Immigration Ordinance governing procedures on screening of claims and related matters by taking into account the current operational experience of USM and the relevant overseas law and practices.
Detention, removal and enforcement
For non-refoulement claimants in Hong Kong who are illegal immigrants or overstayers, even if their claim is substantiated, their illegal immigrant or overstaying status will not change. As stipulated in section 38AA of the Immigration Ordinance, illegal immigrants or people who are the subject of a removal order or a deportation order are prohibited from taking any employment, whether paid or unpaid, or establishing or joining in any business. Offenders are liable upon conviction to a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to three years' imprisonment. In October 2010, the Court of Appeal 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. Since the Ordinance came into effect until the end of 2016, 1 419 persons were arrested on suspicion of breaching the Ordinance.
The department has stepped up enforcement against illegal workers who were non-refoulement claimants and their employers. In 2016, the department conducted 599 targeted operations against non-ethnic Chinese illegal workers, representing a 69.7 per cent increase over the number in 2015. A total of 487 non-ethnic Chinese illegal workers and 299 local employers were arrested, showing respective increases of 23.3 per cent and 45.1 per cent over the figures for 2015. At the same time, the department has enhanced publicity to remind employers that they are liable to criminal convictions and immediate imprisonment for employing persons who are not lawfully employable.
The Government will consider ways to increase the capacity to detain illegal immigrants (including non-refoulement claimants), taking into account legal, resources and security implications of different proposals, including, amongst others, those to better support the management of detention facilities. On the other hand, the department has committed to remove all unsubstantiated non-refoulement claimants from Hong Kong as soon as possible. From 2011 to 2016, a total of 2 845 unsubstantiated claimants (including torture claimants before the commencement of USM) were removed from Hong Kong. The department will strengthen liaison with the consulates concerned in Hong Kong to expedite the removal process.
Collaboration with major source countries
In addition, the department is committed to strengthening contacts with major source countries of non-refoulement claimants. Following the duty visit to India in December 2015, the department also sent delegates to major source countries where claimants originated in 2016, including Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh, to introduce the relevant stringent legislative provisions in Hong Kong against illegal employment and human trafficking as well as the objectives of USM, and to explore co-operation with the authorities on intelligence gathering and liaison on enforcement. The delegates also paid courtesy calls to the concerned Chinese diplomatic and consular missions (CDCMs) overseas and discussed Hong Kong visit visa-related matters, and, through the media, reminded nationals of these countries not to be misguided by syndicates that refugee status would be granted for settlement or try to engage in illegal employment in Hong Kong. The department will continue to send delegates to other major source countries with a view to expressing our concern against human smuggling of their nationals and the situation of lodging non-refoulement claims in Hong Kong, and enhancing liaison and exchange of intelligence with the local enforcement agencies in those countries for the purpose of solving the issues through joint efforts.
In 2016, the department issued 703 309 HKSAR passports. More than 10 million passports have been issued since the introduction of HKSAR passports. Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin (French Overseas Territories), Comoros, Mauritania and Madagascar agreed to grant visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to HKSAR passport holders in 2016. Hence, a total of 157 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.
The Immigration Division of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Shanghai (SHETO) of the HKSAR Government commenced operation on October 25, 2016, to provide practical assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress in the municipality of Shanghai as well as Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong Provinces. For enhancement of services, the Immigration Division of the SHETO started to handle applications for entry visas and entry permits to Hong Kong with effect from November 7, 2016.
To provide further convenience to Hong Kong residents in the Mainland, with effect from November 7, 2016, they may submit their HKSAR passport replacement applications and subsequently collect their new passports through the Immigration Divisions of the Beijing Office and the three Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (HKETOs) in Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangdong. In 2016, a total of 331 HKSAR passport replacement applications were handled through the Immigration Divisions of Mainland Offices.
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), 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 2016, a total of 159 515 calls involving 2 808 requests for assistance were handled by the officers of 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 24-hour hotline 12308 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will, according to the circumstances and needs of individual cases, refer the relevant assistance requests from Hong Kong residents to the AHU for follow-up.
To enhance public awareness of outbound travel safety, the department stepped up promotional campaigns in 2016. During May to September 2016, the department and the OCMFA co-organised activities including a seminar on "Overseas Safety and Consular Protection" and an exhibition, so as to introduce to the public consular protection and the work of the AHU. Moreover, by means of the news reporting from mass media, the public could learn more about safety issues connected with outbound travel and get travel tips for their journeys abroad, including how to seek assistance. A seminar jointly organised with the OCMFA and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong was also held in December 2016 on the advantage of using the Registration of Outbound Travel Information (ROTI) service as well as to promote the service.
Registration of Outbound Travel Information
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 2016, a total of 59 406 Hong Kong residents had registered for the service.
Major incidents outside Hong Kong
In 2016, several major incidents involving Hong Kong residents occurred outside Hong Kong, including the incident of Hong Kong residents being stranded in Turkey (July), Hong Kong residents being attacked in Germany (July), the traffic accident in Hokkaido in Japan (August), the traffic accident in Jieyang in Guangdong involving a Hong Kong tour group (August), the traffic accident in Koh Samui in Thailand (September) and the traffic accident in Brisbane in Australia (October). The AHU worked closely with the OCMFA, the relevant CDCMs, consulates in Hong Kong, 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.
The Civil Celebrants of Marriages Scheme was launched on March 13, 2006. As at the end of 2016, a total of 2 070 civil celebrants had been appointed. They have so far given a total of 256 492 marriage notices, representing 42.9 per cent of the total applications, while 255 850 marriages have been solemnised by them, representing 45.2 per cent of the 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.
The Identity Card Branch was established in June 2016. It is under the command of an Assistant Director and is responsible for the implementation of the Next Generation Smart Identity Card System (SMARTICS-2) and the planning work for a territory-wide identity card replacement exercise.
The invitation to tenders for SMARTICS-2 was carried out between September and November 2016. The tender evaluation is now in active progress. Following the implementation of the new system, a one-off territory-wide identity card replacement exercise will be launched to replace the existing smart identity cards. A total of nine new identity card replacement centres will be set up across the territory for all Hong Kong smart identity card holders to replace their identity cards in phases from 2018 to 2022 tentatively.
In 2016, a total of 210 Immigration Officers and 259 Immigration Assistants were appointed. Among them, 53 Immigration Officers and 130 Immigration Assistants have already joined the workforce after induction training. In the 2017-18 financial year, we will recruit about 230 staff (including 100 Immigration Officers and 130 Immigration Assistants) to fill vacancies due to staff turnover. To meet demand for manpower resources, the department will continue to strive for excellence in the recruitment process and new rounds of open recruitment for Immigration Officers and Immigration Assistants will be launched in the first quarter of 2017.
In order to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the department, an open day was held on July 31, 2016, at the Immigration Service Institute of Training and Development. Members of the public were able to learn more about the department by visiting the exhibitions and game booths. Moreover, a photo exhibition on the history and development of the department was held at Immigration Tower in August and September last year.
The department has all along upheld our values of striving for excellence in serving the public. The effort we made to provide quality service continued to be recognised by a number of awards granted to the department in 2016. The department was voted the winner of the Skytrax Award for Best Airport Immigration Service for the second consecutive year 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 and 13.25 million survey questionnaires on the immigration services of various airports were collected from air passengers of 106 nationalities. This award has proved that our efforts to continuously improve our services are recognised by passengers from around the world. In addition, in the 2016 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 29 staff members were awarded the Certificate of Appreciation in the Corporate Excellence Award.
In 2016, two colleagues received the Ombudsman's Awards for Officers of Public Organisations, making this the 18th consecutive year in which our officers were awarded. In addition, six members of the department were commended in the Secretary for the Civil Service's Commendation Award for their consistently outstanding performance. It was the 13th consecutive year that our officers were commended. Furthermore, 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 department has been awarded the Caring Organisation Logo by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in consecutive years since 2006 and has been awarded the 10 Years Plus Caring Organisation Logo since 2015-16 in recognition of our commitment in caring for the community, employees and the environment. The Immigration Department will continue to strive with devotion and serve the public with excellence.
The official YouTube Channel "Hong Kong Immigration Department" was launched 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 over 40 videos which feature 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 about the department. The total number of views of the Channel is over 120 000 since launch. The department will continue to produce more videos to provide greater convenience to the public.
Strengthening promotion of talent admission schemes for convergence of talents
To take a more proactive approach to attract talent and professionals from outside Hong Kong, the department will continue to make overseas visits and co-operate with HKETOs to promote various talent admission schemes including the ASSG in 2017 so as to attract talent from around the world to Hong Kong for development and make contributions to Hong Kong's economy.
Further enhancement for the provision of assistance to Hong Kong residents outside Hong Kong
There is an increasing number of Hong Kong residents traveling or doing business overseas. To ensure practical assistance can be provided to Hong Kong residents in distress outside Hong Kong, the department plans to further strengthen the work by increasing the manpower and enhancing training for responsible officers. Apart from the Immigration Divisions that are already set up under the Beijing Office and the HKETOs of the Government of the HKSAR in Shanghai, Guangdong and Chengdu, the department will set up an Immigration Division in the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Wuhan this year, so as to provide better support service for Hong Kong residents in distress in the Mainland.
Review on visa requirements for nationals coming to Hong Kong from countries along the Belt and Road
The Chief Executive announced in the 2017 Policy Address that in order to foster co-operation and exchanges between Hong Kong and countries along the Belt and Road, the department will consider relaxing visa requirements for nationals of those countries for employment, study and visits. The HKSAR Government has reached a consensus with Belarus on mutual visa exemption so as to provide greater travel convenience to the visitors from the two places. Under the new arrangement, holders of valid HKSAR passports and holders of valid Belarus national passports can enjoy mutual visa-free access for a stay of up to 14 days. Both sides would seek to complete relevant formalities and put in place the new measure as soon as possible. Furthermore, the department is planning to relax visa requirements for Cambodian nationals for allowing them to apply for employment and study in Hong Kong. The new measure for Cambodia is expected to commence in the first quarter of this year.
The Third Information Systems Strategy (ISS-3) Review
Acting on the recommendations of the report on the ISS-3, the department has been gradually replacing the existing information systems and information technology infrastructure. To support the implementation of the ISS-3 information systems projects, the two new Data Centres and the new infrastructure platform under the New Information Technology Infrastructure project commenced operation in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
The New Immigration Control System has been implemented in phases since January 2016. More than 430 existing e-Channels have been upgraded to multi-purpose e-Channels and over 150 multi-purpose e-Channels have been introduced to enable flexible deployment of e-Channel services according to passenger traffic. Moreover, in order to further enhance clearance efficiency and upgrade the overall passenger handling capacity of control points, the department plans to introduce Self-Service Departure for Visitors in the second quarter of 2017 tentatively, so as to enable eligible visitors holding valid electronic travel documents to perform self-service departure clearance through e-Channels without enrolment.
The Next Generation Electronic Passport System (e-Passport-2) aims to replace the existing ageing computer system and to enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness in supporting the issue of new HKSAR travel documents. The tendering exercise is under way and the new system is planned to be implemented in phases starting from early 2019. Moreover, the feasibility studies on the implementation of systems related to Visa Automation; Assistance to Hong Kong Residents, Births, Deaths & Marriage, and Right of Abode Decision Support; and Enforcement Case Processing was completed in March 2016. The preparatory work is under way. As for the project of SMARTICS-2, the tendering exercise is under way. Related system design, development and testing will be commenced after the award of contract. It is planned to implement the system in phases in 2018.
The Director of Immigration, Mr Tsang Kwok-wai (fifth right), chairs the press conference of the Immigration Department's year-end review of 2016 today (January 26).
The Director of Immigration, Mr Tsang Kwok-wai, chairs the press conference of the Immigration Department's year-end review of 2016 today (January 26). Photo shows Mr Tsang introducing the Self-Service Departure for Visitors.