Twenty-three immigration offenders arrested

21 September 2017

The Immigration Department (ImmD) mounted a series of territory-wide enforcement operations, including operations codenamed "Twilight", and joint operations with the Hong Kong Police Force codenamed "Champion" and "Windsand", from September 18 to 20 to combat illegal employment activities. A total of 18 illegal workers and five suspected employers were arrested. 

During operation "Twilight", ImmD Task Force officers raided 21 target locations including restaurants, a beauty centre, retail shops, a garbage collection depot, a residential building and an industrial building. Seven illegal workers and four employers were arrested. The illegal workers comprised four men and three women aged 17 to 50. Among them, a woman was suspected of using and being in possession of a Hong Kong identity card relating to other person. Meanwhile, two men and two women, aged 24 to 66, were suspected of employing the illegal workers.

During operation "Champion", enforcement officers raided 27 target locations in Tuen Mun including a food processing factory, warehouses and industrial buildings. Seven illegal workers and an employer were arrested. The seven male illegal workers were aged 17 to 33. Among them, two men were holders of recognisance forms, which prohibit them from taking any employment. Meanwhile, a man, aged 39, was suspected of employing the illegal workers. 

Furthermore, during operation "Windsand", four Mainland visitors comprising a man and three women, aged 20 to 47, were arrested for breaching their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading at San Wan Road and Tung Hing Road in Sheung Shui district. The goods included food, daily necessities and skincare products. 

Since September 2012, a number of "Windsand" operations have been conducted, during which a total of 3 338 Mainlanders and 18 Hong Kong residents were arrested for suspected involvement in parallel goods trading. Of these, 233 Mainlanders were prosecuted for breach of conditions of stay, while the remaining 3 105 people were repatriated. Among those prosecuted, 222 were sentenced to imprisonment for between four weeks and three months, and charges were withdrawn for the other 11 people.

"Any person who contravenes a condition of stay in force in respect of him shall be guilty of an offence. Also, visitors are not allowed to take employment in Hong Kong, whether paid or unpaid, without the permission of the Director of Immigration. Offenders are liable to prosecution and upon conviction face a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to two years' imprisonment. Aiders and abettors are also liable to prosecution and penalties," an ImmD spokesman said.

The spokesman warned that, 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. The Court of Appeal has issued a guideline ruling that a sentence of 15 months' imprisonment should be applied in such cases.

The spokesman also warned that it is an offence to use or possess a forged Hong Kong identity card or a Hong Kong identity card related to another person. Offenders are liable to prosecution and a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine and up to 10 years' imprisonment.

The spokesman reiterated that it is a serious offence to employ people who are not lawfully employable. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for three years and a fine of $350,000. The High Court has laid down sentencing guidelines that the employer of an illegal worker should be given an immediate custodial sentence. According to the court sentencing, employers must take all practicable steps to determine whether a person is lawfully employable prior to employment. Apart from inspecting a prospective employee's identity card, the employer has the explicit duty to make enquiries regarding the person and ensure that the answers would not cast any reasonable doubt concerning the lawful employability of the person. The court will not accept failure to do so as a defence in proceedings. It is also an offence if an employer fails to inspect the job seeker's valid travel document if the job seeker does not have a Hong Kong permanent identity card. The maximum penalty for failing to inspect such a document is imprisonment for one year and a fine of $150,000.

Under the existing mechanism, the ImmD will, as a standard procedure, conduct initial screening of vulnerable persons, including illegal workers, illegal immigrants, sex workers and foreign domestic helpers, who are arrested during any operation with a view to ascertaining whether they are trafficking in persons (TIP) victims. When any TIP indicator is revealed in the initial screening, the officers will conduct a full debriefing and identification by using a standardised checklist to ascertain the presence of TIP elements, such as threat and coercion in the recruitment phase and the nature of exploitation. Identified TIP victims will be provided with various forms of support and assistance, including urgent interference, medical services, counselling, shelter, temporary accommodation and other supporting services. The ImmD calls on TIP victims to report crimes to the relevant departments.