27 January 2014
The Director of Immigration, Mr Chan Kwok-ki, delivered a year-end review of the Immigration Department (the Department)'s work in 2013 including its future outlook today (January 27). The following is a summary of the Department's major activities in 2013:
The Control Branch experienced another busy year of passenger traffic in 2013. Over 277 million passengers passed through our control points, representing an increase of 3.6 per cent as compared with the figure in 2012. The total number of visitor arrivals reached 54.3 million, representing an 11.7 per cent increase compared with that of 2012, of which 12.33 million passengers travelled through the Airport Control Point, while 36.9 million passengers and 5.06 million passengers passed through land boundary control points and sea control points respectively.
With the further development of economic and social connections between the Mainland and Hong Kong, the number of Mainland visitors has kept on increasing over the years. In 2013, the total number of Mainland visitor arrivals reached 40.5 million with a daily average of 110 900, which was 16.8 per cent higher than that in 2012.
The number of passengers has been rising in recent years. 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 end-2013, a total of 425 e-Channels had been installed at all control points including 102 multi-purpose e-Channels which can be flexibly deployed for use by eligible Hong Kong residents or enrolled visitors.
On September 19, 2013, the Department launched the first e-Channel with voice navigation function in the world for visually impaired persons to perform self-service departure clearance at Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point. To use the service, visually impaired persons should first press the activation button at the entrance of the e-Channel to initiate the voice navigation function and voice instructions will guide the persons concerned to complete the clearance process. The Department has planned to extend the service to the arrival hall of Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point as well as the arrival and departure halls of Macau Ferry Terminal Control Point in 2014.
With effect from December 12, 2013, holders of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport are able to enrol for the automated immigration clearance service in the Republic of Korea whilst holders of the Korean passport can also enrol for the e-Channel service in Hong Kong. Up to present, around 3 300 HKSAR passport holders and 1 500 Korean passport holders have applied for enrolment under the new arrangement. The Government will liaise with countries and regions with close ties with Hong Kong in tourism and economic partnership on the reciprocal use of automated immigration clearance facilities to provide greater immigration convenience to inbound and outbound travellers.
To provide more efficient and simplified immigration clearance at control points, the Department introduced non-stamping immigration clearance service for visitors in March 2013 and Hong Kong non-permanent residents in December 2013. Under the new arrangement, stamping on travel documents during arrival clearance is replaced by the issue of a landing slip which bears the conditions and limit of stay of the holder. Upon departure, no landing slip or stamping would be given. The new initiative helps shorten the clearance processing time.
On December 5, 2013, the Department launched the Hong Kong Immigration Mobile Application for Hong Kong residents and visitors to obtain information on the estimated passenger waiting time at major land boundary control points and other information, such as office hours of all immigration offices, anytime and anywhere. The estimated passenger waiting time assessments would be updated about every 15 minutes. The information aims to serve as a reference for Hong Kong residents and visitors for choosing a less congested land boundary control point or travel at less busy hours to avoid congestion. Up to present, around 67 000 downloads have been recorded.
To ensure smoother passenger flow and to enhance the handling capacity, the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line and Shenzhen Bay control points implemented the Contra-flow Crowd Management Measure in mid-2013. During peak hours, arriving passengers are diverted to the departure hall for arrival clearance to relieve congestion.
With reference to the figures from the Education Bureau, the number of CBS in the 2013-14 school year is around 20 000. To facilitate the immigration clearance of CBS, designated counters have been reserved during peak hours to expedite the clearance of CBS. Six designated e-Channels for CBS are operating at Lo Wu Control Point. Another six designated e-Channels for CBS will also be put into operation at Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point in the second half of 2014.
To further assist CBS to travel between the Mainland and Hong Kong, the Government has approved special quotas for coach operators to run cross-boundary coaches for students using the Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Kok and Shenzhen Bay control points. From the 2012/13 school year onwards, the on-board clearance service has been extended from the Man Kam To and Sha Tau Kok control points to Lok Ma Chau Control Point to provide more speedy and safe clearance for CBS. In addition, making use of information technology, the Simplified Clearance Procedure has been extended from the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line and Shenzhen Bay control points to Lo Wu Control Point in the 2013/14 school year. This procedure is also applicable to CBS using the on-board clearance service in other control points. To enhance the handling capacity of the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Lok Ma Chau and Man Kam To control points, more parking bays for nanny buses and cross-boundary coaches were also provided.
The first berth of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal has been put into operation since mid-2013. Meanwhile, the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal Control Point was commissioned on September 30, 2013, to provide immigration clearance services to passengers travelling on cruise liners. The second berth is expected to be completed and become operational in mid-2014.
Improvement works for the passenger terminal of Man Kam To Control Point completed in August 2013. The number of e-Channels has increased from nine to 16 and the parking bays for cross-boundary coaches from 15 to 26.
Hong Kong maintains an open policy towards professionals entering the city for employment or investment (to establish or join in business). The prevailing General Employment Policy 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 2013, 28 380 foreign professionals and investors were admitted under this policy.
The ASMTP has attracted a wide variety of qualified talents and professionals from the Mainland to come to work in Hong Kong since its implementation on July 15, 2003. As at end-2013, the Department had received a total of 77 708 entry applications for employment. The main sectors of employment were academic research and education, arts and culture, and commerce and trade. In 2013, a total of 8 017 applications were approved.
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. As at end-2013, the Department had received 10 471 applications. Twenty-nine selection exercises have been conducted and 2 724 applicants have been allotted quotas - 2 502 under the General Points Test (GPT) and 222 under the Achievement-based Points Test (APT). Successful applicants under the GPT were mainly from the financial and accounting services, information technology and telecommunications, and architecture, surveying, engineering and construction sectors. Under the APT, successful applicants mainly came from the sports sector and the arts and culture sector.
The CIES was launched in October 2003 with the objective of facilitating the entry for residence of capital investment entrants, i.e. persons who wish to make capital investment in Hong Kong but would not be engaged in the running of any business here. The entrants are allowed to make their choice of investments among permissible investment assets without the need to establish or join in a business. As at end-2013, the Department had received 35 719 applications. A total of 20 649 applicants had made the requisite investments and were given Formal Approval to reside in Hong Kong. They have invested a total of $167.3 billion in permissible investment assets. Additionally, a total of 2 390 applicants were given Approval-in-Principle to enter Hong Kong to make the requisite investments. The monthly average of applications received was 769 in 2013.
The IANG was launched on May 19, 2008, to further attract non-local graduates to stay/return and work in Hong Kong so as to strengthen Hong Kong's human resources and competitiveness. The arrangements have been well received. As at end-2013, 30 819 non-local graduates had been given permission to stay/return and work in Hong Kong.
The department introduced PAR on September 1, 2012, for eligible Taiwan visitors to submit pre-arrival registration via the GovHK website free of charge. The computer system processes the registration and displays the result instantly. Successful registrants are able to visit Hong Kong with a self-printed Notification Slip for PAR and a travel document valid for re-entry to Taiwan for at least six months. Each PAR is valid for two months and good for two entries to Hong Kong as a visitor for up to 30 days on each landing. PAR has been well received by Taiwan visitors. As at end-2013, there had been a total of 554 184 successful registrations under PAR.
With effect from June 1, 2013, nationals of Russia holding a valid ABTC with the economy code "HKG" may visit Hong Kong visa-free for up to 60 days and may enrol for e-Channel service. Visiting ABTC holders are also allowed to use "Resident" counters for immigration clearance.
With effect from July 1, 2013, the visa-free period for nationals of Croatia to visit Hong Kong has been extended from 14 to 90 days.
The Working Holiday Scheme was introduced in April 2001. It aims to facilitate cultural and educational exchange in order to strengthen bilateral relations between Hong Kong and the participating countries. In 2013, Hong Kong established bilateral Working Holiday Schemes with France and the United Kingdom with effect from July 1, 2013, and January 1, 2014 respectively. The Scheme is applicable to a total of nine countries, viz., New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, France and the United Kingdom. Participants are allowed to stay up to 12 months in Hong Kong for holiday and to take up short-term employment during their stay.
In 2013, 13 708 operations against illegal employment were conducted, with 6 052 illegal workers and 915 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 end-2013, a total of 1 065 Mainland visitors had been arrested for breaching their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading, and 12 local employers had been arrested on suspicion of employing illegal workers. Among them, 142 Mainland visitors were convicted and sentenced to four weeks to two 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 would be prohibited from visiting Hong Kong for two years.
The Department has established a monitoring list of suspected parallel traders which contains information of persons suspected to be involved in parallel trading activities collected through various means, including information of arrested and convicted persons, intelligence and analysis of immigration data. When they seek entry in the future, the Department will conduct examination and, if their purposes of entry are in doubt, refuse their entry and repatriate them to the Mainland immediately. 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 end-2013, over 12 800 Mainland visitors had been refused permission to land due to suspected involvement in parallel trade activities.
In order to tie in with the implementation of the "zero quota" policy on January 1, 2013, and prevent Mainland pregnant women who do not have prior booking of obstetric service with local hospitals from entering Hong Kong for delivery, the Department has strengthened the 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 2013, 40 865 Mainland pregnant women were intercepted at control points, of whom 5 077 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 taking the dangerous move of seeking emergency admission to local hospitals shortly before labour.
A task group has been established to investigate Mainland pregnant women who might have contracted 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 2013, the Department prosecuted 94 Mainland pregnant women who had overstayed in Hong Kong for delivery and eight who had sought to give birth in Hong Kong by illicit means. Another eight Hong Kong residents and four intermediaries were also prosecuted for assisting them in giving birth in Hong Kong. Those convicted were sentenced to up to 15 months' imprisonment. Moreover, three Mainland women who had overstayed and given birth in Hong Kong were each convicted on their own plea of one count of breach of condition of stay and sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment in January 2014. Having considered that they had abused local resources and affected the hospital services reserved for Hong Kong residents, the Magistrate handed down the verdicts with deterrent effect.
Since the enhancement of immigration measures and enforcement actions, the number of Mainland pregnant women seeking emergency admission to local hospitals has declined substantially from an average of around 160 cases per month in the last quarter of 2011 to around 20 in 2013, proving the effectiveness of the measures.
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 investigation and collecting sufficient evidence, we would prosecute the suspected persons involved. In 2013, 21 Mainland residents and 167 Hong Kong residents were convicted of offences relating to bogus marriages and were sentenced to jail terms ranging from four to 48 months.
The Department has for years worked with overseas, Mainland and local law enforcement agencies to combat global illegal migration and document fraud. The Anti-Illegal Migration Agency was set up to fight against transnational illegal migration and investigate cases involving HKSAR passports.
In March 2013, a joint operation was conducted by the Department, the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department and the Shenzhen Municipal Public Security Bureau to neutralise an active human smuggling syndicate in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. In December 2013, another special operation was conducted by the Department at the Hong Kong International Airport, with the participation of local consulate representatives of Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States of America as advisers or observers. These two operations successfully led to the apprehension of 15 suspects including core syndicate members and Hong Kong residents selling HKSAR passports.
The Department spares no efforts in combating travel document forgery. The number of operations against forgery activities increased from 28 219 in 2012 to 28 443 in 2013. In August 2013, the Department conducted an operation and successfully neutralised a forgery syndicate which provided one-stop service to illegal workers. During the operation, a total of 30 suspects were arrested including three syndicate members while 35 forged HK identity cards and two forged Home Visit Permits were seized. In 2013, a total of 765 forged travel documents and 186 forged smart HK identity cards were detected, representing increases of 11 per cent and 9 per cent respectively when compared with 688 and 171 in 2012.
In 2013, a total of 491 torture claim cases were received. The claimants mainly came from South or Southeast Asian countries. Since the enhanced screening mechanism was introduced in December 2009, and up to end-2013, the Department had processed 6 075 claims, of which around 90 per cent were provided with publicly funded legal assistance. Of those, decisions were made on 4 534 claims. As at end-2013, there were 2 792 outstanding cases. The Department believes that the statutory mechanism, while maintaining high standards of fairness, also helps reduce procedural abuse.
Pursuant to the two Court of Final Appeal judgments - Ubamaka Edward Wilson v. Secretary for Security (FACV 15/2011) and C & Ors v. Director of Immigration (FACV 18-20/2011) handed down on December 21, 2012 and March 25, 2013 respectively, the Administration will introduce a unified screening mechanism (USM), which meets the "high standards of fairness" required by the law, to determine claims for non-refoulement made in Hong Kong.
Under the USM, the Immigration Department will assess claims for non-refoulement in respect of another country lodged by persons not having the right to enter and remain in Hong Kong on all applicable grounds including risk of torture as defined under Part VIIC of the Immigration Ordinance (Cap. 115); risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights; and/or risk of persecution with reference to the non-refoulement principle under Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention). The Administration is finalising the details of its operation with relevant stakeholders, including the Duty Lawyer Service with a view to commencing the USM in the first quarter of 2014.
This does not affect the Administration's position that the Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol have never been applied to Hong Kong and our firm policy of not granting asylum to anyone.
During 2013, 756 893 HKSAR passports were issued, representing an increase of 17.4 per cent compared with the 644 653 passports issued in 2012.
In August 2013, New Caledonia was newly included into the list of countries/territories which have granted visa-free access to HKSAR passport holders. With the addition of the Republic of Malawi and the Republic of Moldova in early 2014, there are a total of 149 countries and territories granting 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.
To better serve the public, the West Kowloon Office and the Kowloon Births Registry of the Immigration Department were relocated from Yau Ma Tei Carpark Building to 28 Kimberley Street, Tsim Sha Tsui, on January 13, 2014, to continue providing services relating to birth registration, application and issue of travel documents for residents, extension of stay in Hong Kong and more. After relocation, the office’s daily quota for processing applications for travel documents has increased substantially. Together with the increased number and advanced operating hours of self-service kiosks for passport application, the handling capacity of the office for processing travel document applications has increased almost 60 per cent.
The Immigration Division of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Chengdu (CDETO) of the Government of the HKSAR commenced operation on October 21, 2013. The main functions of the Immigration Division are to render practical assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress under the coverage of CDETO, including five provinces, namely Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan and Shaanxi, and Chongqing municipality, and to maintain contact with counterparts in the relevant Mainland municipal/provincial authorities on immigration matters.
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), the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices overseas, the Office of the Government of the HKSAR in Beijing, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices in Guangdong and Chengdu, the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (Taiwan) and other government departments to provide assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress outside Hong Kong.
In 2013, a total of 209 282 calls involving 1 981 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.
In 2013, several major incidents involving Hong Kong residents occurred outside Hong Kong, namely the hot air balloon incident in Luxor, Egypt (February); the sinking of a ferry in Pattaya, Thailand (November); and Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines (November). Following these incidents, the AHU worked closely with the OCMFA, the relevant CDCMs and other government departments to provide all feasible assistance to the affected Hong Kong residents and their family members.
Hong Kong residents can register their contact details and itineraries outside Hong Kong before setting out on their trips via the ROTI service. The information provided can help the AHU to contact and help Hong Kong residents in the event of an emergency outside Hong Kong. ROTI registrants will receive updates on Outbound Travel Alerts (OTAs) and related public information via MyGovHK and, depending on the situation, via SMS on a mobile phone. As at end-2013, a total of 33 482 Hong Kong residents had registered for the service.
The Civil Celebrants of Marriages Scheme was launched on March 13, 2006. As at end-2013, a total of 1 908 civil celebrants had been appointed. They have so far given a total of 175 927 marriage notices, representing 40.6 per cent of total applications, while 175 574 marriages have been solemnised by them, representing 42.9 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.
In 2013, a total of 153 Immigration Officers and 187 Immigration Assistants were appointed. Of these, 66 Immigration Officers and 110 Immigration Assistants have already joined the workforce after induction training. We will further appoint about 40 Immigration Officers and 30 Immigration Assistants in the first quarter of 2014. In the 2014-15 financial year, we will recruit about 140 staff (including 60 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 respectively in the first half of 2014.
Strengthening our service quality, we have been exploiting advanced information technology over the years and gained wide recognition. Last year, the e-Channel was awarded in “The Hong Kong People Engineering Wonders in the 21st Century” by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. The Cross-boundary Students Clearance System won the Best Public Service Application (Transformation) Bronze Award under the Hong Kong Information and Communications Technology Awards 2013.
The Department continued to strive to serve the public with sincerity and dedication. In the Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme 2013 organised by the Civil Service Bureau, the Department was awarded the Team Award (General Public Service) Special Citation (Integrity Management) in recognition of our integrity management practices in providing public services. Four members of the Department were commended in the Secretary for the Civil Service's Commendation Award in recognition of their consistently outstanding performance. Since the introduction of this award scheme in 2004, it was the 10th consecutive year that our officers were commended. Another two colleagues received Ombudsman's Awards 2013 for Officers of Public Organisations, making 2013 the 15th consecutive year that our officers were awarded. In the same year, the officer with the highest number of votes in the Most Courteous Immigration Control Officers organised by the Department was appointed by the Hong Kong Tourism Board as the Hong Kong Courtesy Ambassador. In recognition of its contributions in practising social responsibility, the Department has been awarded the Caring Organisation Logo by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service consecutively since 2006, and received the Bronze Award for the Corporate and Employee Contribution Programme organised by the Community Chest. We shall continue to provide quality services with excellence and professionalism.
To tie in with the introduction of the card-type electronic Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao (e-EEP) by the Mainland authorities in 2014, the Department has been implementing enhancements to the computer systems and clearance facilities to allow the use of e-Channels by eligible e-EEP holders without prior enrolment. In future, e-EEP holders will have to give consent upon application for e-EEP in the Mainland to allow the Department to read their fingerprint templates during e-Channel clearance. Once granted permission of stay after presenting themselves to the traditional immigration counters for face-to-face clearance upon their first visit to Hong Kong, e-EEP holders can use self-service clearance service at e-Channels on their subsequent visits. The time required for immigration clearance will be shortened. The Department will provide an additional 179 multi-purpose e-Channels between 2014 and 2016. They can be flexibly deployed to cater for different types of passengers according to demand at the control points to maintain effective immigration control.
The Department will further enhance our performance pledge in 2014. The standard processing time at counters for registration for the Hong Kong identity card is being shortened from 75 minutes to 60 minutes (applicable to 95 per cent of the applications). Committed to the full implementation of its performance pledges, the Department has been consistently seeking new initiatives and actively introducing state-of-the-art technologies, and will continue to serve members of the public with its best efforts and meet the ever-rising public expectations.
This year, the Department will continue to implement complementary immigration measures to tie in with the "zero quota" policy on Mainland pregnant women. The Department will enhance examination on these visitors at various control points and spare no effort in combating intermediaries assisting them to give birth in Hong Kong.
The Department will maintain its efforts against parallel traders by strengthening interceptions at control points as well as the exchange of intelligence and collaboration with local and Mainland law enforcement agencies and take sustainable rigorous enforcement actions to crack down on illicit activities from time to time at different locations.
In the light of the increasing trend of the number of non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants intercepted in recent months, the Department will continue to step up relevant enforcement actions.
With regard to control point facilities, improvement works are being carried out in stages at the Lok Ma Chau Control Point passenger terminal. The first stage, which concerns the arrival facilities (southbound), was completed in April 2013. The second stage, which concerns the departure facilities (northbound), starting in early May 2013, is underway. It is expected that the whole project will be completed in 2014. By then, the number of e-Channels will be increased from 20 to 33. The number of traditional counters and e-Channels will be increased to 83 in total.
In the coming few years, more new control points will be commissioned, including the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, and the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Control Point, to further enhance the capacity of handling cross-boundary passengers. The Department will actively support the development and continue to provide efficient immigration services to the travelling public.
On the recommendation of the third Information Systems Strategy Review (ISS-3) in end-2010, the tender of the first ISS-3 project for the implementation of the New Information Technology Infrastructure was awarded in end-2013. Related system design and development has commenced. The Finance Committee of the Legislative Council approved the funding commitment for the second ISS-3 project for the implementation of the New Immigration Control System in early 2013. The new system will cope with continuous passenger growth and tie in with the future needs and developments of all existing and new control points. The tendering exercise is in progress and phased implementation of the new system is scheduled between end-2015 and mid-2016.
The feasibility studies of the other two ISS-3 projects for the implementation of the Next Generation Smart Identity Card System and Electronic Passport System commenced in August and October 2013 respectively. The studies, amongst other things, will identify the sustainability and improvement areas of the current systems and recommend the best improvement options with cost and benefit analysis. The studies will be completed in mid-2014. For the remaining ISS-3 projects including the next generation systems for visa matters and births, deaths and marriage registration, relevant feasibility studies will be conducted in mid-2014 as planned.