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Enforcement and Removal Assessment Branch

Organisation Chart of the Enforcement and Removal Assessment Branch

Under the command of an Assistant Director, the Enforcement and Removal Assessment Branch comprises the Enforcement Division and the Removal Assessment and Litigation Division. Each division is headed by a Principal Immigration Officer.

The Enforcement Division is responsible for formulating and implementing policies in respect of investigation, deportation and removal. The Removal Assessment and Litigation Division is responsible for determining non-refoulement claims lodged by persons 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). It handles matters relating to prosecution of immigration offenders and litigation cases relating to removal, deportation and non-refoulement claims. It is also responsible for the management of the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre for the detention of persons of 18 years old or above.

Investigation and Intelligence

The Immigration Department has made concerted efforts to uphold the laws of Hong Kong by investigating into offences under the Immigration Ordinance and the Registration of Persons Ordinance, and offences relating to the registration of births, deaths and marriages in Hong Kong; instituting removal and deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants and undesirables; and maintaining intelligence on global immigration matters.

Anti-Illegal Migration Agency

To further strengthen law enforcement actions against the use of forged travel documents and human smuggling activities at the Airport, the Department established an Airport Investigation Group (AIG) when the Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok came into operation on 6 July 1998. AIG together with the Tactical Intelligence Group (TIG) were put under the management of the Anti-Illegal Migration Agency (AIM) since its formation on 28 June 2004. The main charter of AIM includes investigation of forgery and illegal migration cases intercepted at the Hong Kong International Airport, focused investigations on forgery syndicates relating to the abuse of HKSAR passports, and collection and analysis of the latest modus operandi of forgery syndicates and users.

Mainland Illegal Immigration

In 2015, the number of Mainland illegal immigrants intercepted was 783, representing a slight increase of 6.4 per cent when compared with 736 arrested in 2014. Some of the illegal immigrants came to Hong Kong to take up unlawful employment while some came here to meet their families and relatives. The number of Mainland illegal immigrants involved in sex work decreased from 20 in 2014 to 15 in 2015. There was no surrendered pregnant Mainland illegal immigrant in 2014 and 2015.

After the gazettal of the application procedures for the Certificate of Entitlement in July 1999, the number of surrendered minor illegal immigrants from the Mainland declined sharply. In 2015, there were only two surrender cases, while there was none in 2014.

Unlawful Employment

Immigration investigators conducting surprise checks at various locations to combat illegal employment.

In 2015, the Department continued to maintain high vigilance on the problem of illegal workers and actively took tough and effective enforcement actions against unlawful employment of illegal immigrants, visitors, foreign domestic helpers and imported workers who were subject to specific employment conditions so as to protect the local labour market. Measures taken included publication of related government policies and regulations, and frequent surprise checks on factories, restaurants, food production factories, shops, markets, foot reflexology centres, residential and commercial premises under renovation, cemeteries, refuse collection points and waste materials recycling factories, container depots and warehouses situated in the border and rural districts in the New Territories. In 2015, 6,762 illegal workers, including 4,589 persons engaged in sex work, were arrested, which represents an increase of 10.9 per cent as compared with 6,100 in 2014. Most of the illegal workers were prosecuted and fined or imprisoned before repatriation to their places of domicile. Besides, section 38AA of the Immigration Ordinance came into effect on 14 November 2009, which prohibits illegal immigrants or people who are subject of a removal order or deportation order from taking any employment, whether paid or unpaid, or from establishing or joining in any business. As at the end of 2015, 1,117 persons were arrested for being suspected of breaching the said Ordinance.

To combat offences relating to parallel trading activities, the Department has stepped up enforcement actions by mounting a series of anti-illegal worker operations codenamed ‘Windsand’ since September 2012. As at the end of 2015, a total of 285 operations were conducted with the apprehension of 2,646 Mainland visitors for breaching their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading, and 17 local employers on suspicion of employing illegal workers. Among them, 216 Mainland visitors were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from four weeks to three months. According to the existing mechanism, the Department would pass the particulars of those Mainland visitors who had been convicted of illegal employment in Hong Kong to the Mainland authorities for cancellation of their exit endorsements and they would be prohibited from visiting Hong Kong for two years. For persons suspected of being involved in parallel goods trading but were not prosecuted, their future arrival would be closely scrutinised. They will be refused entry and repatriated to the Mainland if their purposes of visit are dubious.

To strengthen crime prevention measures and enforcement actions against illegal activities, including unlawful employment, an inter-departmental task force comprising the Immigration Department, Hong Kong Police Force, Customs and Excise Department, Labour Department, Correctional Services Department and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department was set up in April 2003.

Besides, for enhancing the effectiveness of curbing the problem of unlawful employment, the Department has set up an Anti-illegal Workers Combat Squad since January 2005 to provide a more speedy and robust combat force against illegal workers and their employers. The squad conducts plain-clothes patrol duties at black spots of illegal workers and takes speedy actions on reports of unlawful employment.

‘Don't employ illegal workers’ poster

Employers of illegal workers were also prosecuted. In 2015, 196 employers were prosecuted for employing illegal workers. Many of the prosecuted employers were sentenced to jail. As a deterrent measure against unlawful employment, the Court of Appeal (CA) laid down a sentencing guideline in September 2004 reaffirming that employing a person not lawfully employable is a serious offence and the employer of an illegal worker should be sentenced to an immediate custodial sentence even for the first offence. The CA also stated that the presence of aggravating features, such as an element of exploitation, multiple employment of illegal workers or a repeated offence, will in most cases substantially increase the guideline sentence.

To prevent illegal workers from taking up renovation work in public and private housing estates, the Department issued guidelines to enhance proper record keeping of flats under renovation and the particulars of the flat owners, contractors and workers. Consequently, there is an obvious decrease in the number of illegal workers taking up renovation work in well-managed housing estates.

On the issue of illegal workers using or in possession of a forged or other person’s identity card, the CA handed down a sentencing guideline in March 2005. The Court found that for an offence of possession of a forged / other person’s identity card, even when the offender’s presence in Hong Kong is legal, the sentence should be 12 months’ imprisonment after a guilty plea. If the forged / other person’s identity card had been presented / used to conceal one’s status, so as to seek unlawful employment or to further one’s illegal stay in Hong Kong, the sentence should be 15 months’ imprisonment after a guilty plea.

An Announcement of Public Interest reminding employers about the consequence of hiring illegal workers.

Besides, apart from the Announcement in the Public Interest (API) on television to remind the public not to employ illegal workers, the Department has also launched an API on radio in Punti dialect, Putonghua and English to arouse public awareness of the serious consequences of employing holders of immigration recognizance forms for illegal employment. The API highlights the sentencing guideline and aims to disseminate the message to members of the public that employers of illegal workers will be given immediate custodial sentence.

‘Online Reporting of Immigration Offences’ service

The Department encourages members of the public to report immigration offences such as overstaying or employment of illegal workers by mail (address: 5/F, Skyline Tower, 39 Wang Kwong Road, Kowloon Bay, Kowloon), by calling the Department’s 24-hour hotline (2824 1551), by fax (2824 1166), by e-mail ([email protected]) or by online reporting (www.gov.hk/orio). The Department will continue combating unlawful employment through various channels and appeals to members of the public not to employ illegal workers.

Immigration Task Force

The Immigration Task Force conducts enforcement operations against immigration offenders.

Apart from conducting enforcement operations against immigration offenders, the Immigration Task Force also reinforces offices which require additional manpower resources to cope with the upsurge of workload. In 2015, 13,307 enforcement operations, including 582 large-scale joint operations with other government departments, were conducted. A total of 5,962 immigration offenders were arrested.


During the year, in order to curb the prevailing trend of unlawful employment, the Task Force also conducted a number of special operations codenamed ‘Twilight’, ‘Champion’ and ‘Flabbergast’ against illegal workers in various businesses. The Task Force will continue stepping up enforcement actions against illegal workers and their employers to protect job opportunities of the local workforce.

To step up publicity campaigns against the hiring of persons not lawfully employable and to raise public awareness of the serious consequences of unlawful employment, a special team and a propaganda vehicle are regularly deployed to station at black spots of illegal workers. On the other hand, the Department from time to time distributes ‘Don’t Employ Illegal Workers’ leaflets to store-keepers and disseminates the message in the talks or seminars organised by estate management companies, other government departments and public organisations.

Investigations into Forged Documents

The Department is extremely concerned about the use of forged travel documents, either for illegal migration, crimes or terrorism. Such illicit activities pose threat to immigration control and the security of the countries concerned and undermine the probity of the passports being forged. As syndicated forgery activity is a global problem, the Department works closely with the local, Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies. Resolute actions are taken to detect the use of forged travel documents by travellers and illegal migrants who are in transit through Hong Kong to other countries. In 2015, the Department conducted 27,257 anti-forgery operations. The number of forged travel documents detected was 511, representing a slight decrease of 2.3 per cent as compared to 523 in 2014.

Since the issue of Hong Kong smart identity cards in June 2003, the Hong Kong smart identity card has become a target of forgery syndicates. In various operations conducted by the Department in 2015, a total of 70 forged Hong Kong smart identity cards were seized. To tackle the problem, the Department will continue to conduct various operations, intelligence collation and information exchange with relevant parties.

Our staff using Video Spectral Comparator in the detection of forged documents.

To achieve more effective results, the Department uses sophisticated equipment to assist in the detection of forged documents. Such equipment includes the Electronic Documentation of Information System on Networks (EDISON), which is a computerised system keeping a large collection of digitised colour images of genuine travel document specimens. The Department is also equipped with Video Spectral Comparators which are particularly effective in the immediate detection of forged and unlawfully altered documents.

The Department also makes use of compact hand-held forensic devices and forged document detectors to enable frontline officers to conduct quick examination of doubtful documents on the spot as well as the Face Recognition System (FACES) which is an effective ancillary tool in enhancing the detection of cases of multiple identities.

In addition, the Department uses advanced investigative analysis software and forensic system to assist in the investigation and for detailed analysis of intelligence on forgery and human smuggling syndicate activities.

Operational Research

The Operational Research Section is responsible for collecting, analysing and disseminating information relating to matters of interest to the Department. It keeps track of the modus operandi of human smuggling and the trends on the use of forged travel documents.

The work of the section not only enables the provision of intelligence on immigration matters to the staff within the Department but also enhances the exchange of intelligence with other government bodies, consulates and counterparts of the Mainland and overseas.

In combating transnational illegal migration activities, the Department maintains a close liaison and actively involves in the exchange of immigration intelligence with Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies.
Talks on detection points of forged Hong Kong smart identity cards are delivered to personnel of other government departments, financial institutions and the legal sector.

During the year, workshops on the identification of forged travel documents and forged Hong Kong smart identity cards were conducted for our in-service officers, local and overseas enforcement agencies. Moreover, talks on security features of Hong Kong smart identity cards and techniques for identifying forged Hong Kong smart identity cards were delivered to personnel of other government departments, financial institutions and the legal sector who were regularly involved in the handling of identification documents.

The section also maintains an Enforcement Exhibition Gallery. The gallery highlights the diversity of work and various achievements of the Enforcement Division through the display of photographs, reports of enforcement actions, seized exhibits and various kinds of enforcement equipment. Besides, the gallery stores over 36,100 forgery items unearthed by the Department. These items include forged documents such as passports, identity cards, certificates and implements fit for forgery such as stamps and dies. Specimens are also displayed for training and exhibition purposes.

Prosecution, Deportation and Removal

In 2015, 4,661 charges were laid against persons who had committed offences under the Immigration Ordinance and the Registration of Persons Ordinance, and offences relating to the registration of births, deaths and marriages in Hong Kong. Under section 38AA of the Immigration Ordinance which came into effect on 14 November 2009, illegal immigrants or persons who are subject to a removal order or deportation order must not take any employment or establish or join any business. A person committing the offence is liable to a fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for three years. As at the end of 2015, 1,079 offenders were prosecuted.

The Department also processes deportation and removal order applications to keep out undesirables. In 2015, 360 and 901 persons were deported and removed respectively from Hong Kong.

Ma Tau Kok Detention Centre

Ma Tau Kok Detention Centre

The Department’s detention centre at Ma Tau Kok has been operating since February 1998. The centre runs round-the-clock and can accommodate up to 87 detainees at any one time. In 2015, there were 13,683 immigration offenders admitted to the detention centre.


Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre

The Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC) is an immigration detention facility for detaining immigration offenders (18 years old or above) who are awaiting repatriation / removal / deportation in accordance with the Immigration Ordinance. In 2015, there were 7,942 detainees admitted to the CIC pending removal / deportation.

Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre provides round-the-clock detention facilities for immigration offenders.

In view of different nature of work between managing the CIC and other immigration work, members of the Immigration Service responsible for the operation of the CIC have to receive necessary training in relation to the management of a detention centre. The training courses last for three weeks, including a one-week Detention Centre Management Course and a two-week tactical training. The Detention Centre Management Course focuses on the daily operation of a detention centre while the tactical training is concerned with staff’s response during riotous situation. As a requisite for the renewal of the exemption permit under the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance by the Police Licensing Office, members of the Immigration Service are required to undergo refresher training organised by the Correctional Services Department four times annually so that they are qualified to carry and use anti-riot equipment in the centre.

Immigration service staff responsible for the operation of the CIC receiving tactical training.

Unified Screening Mechanism

Foreigners who smuggled themselves into Hong Kong, who overstayed their limit of stay allowed at entry, or who were refused entry by the Department upon arrival in Hong Kong (collectively referred to as ‘illegal immigrants’) will be removed from Hong Kong in accordance with the Immigration Ordinance.

Staff of the Removal Assessment Section conducting an assessment interview with a non-refoulement claimant in the presence of his legal representative and with the assistance of an interpreter.

However, pursuant to the United Nations Convention Against Torture which applies to Hong Kong since 1992, as well as multiple local court rulings since 2004, if an illegal immigrant claims that he would face risks of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or persecution if he is removed to his country of origin, then the Department must determine whether his claim is substantiated following procedures that meet ‘high standards of fairness’. Meanwhile, the Department may not remove him to his country of origin.

The unified screening mechanism (USM) commenced its operation on 3 March 2014. Under the USM, the Department assesses non-refoulement claims lodged by illegal immigrants to resist removal on all applicable grounds including risks of torture, as defined in the Immigration Ordinance; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of section 8 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance 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). The procedures of the USM follow those of the statutory screening mechanism for torture claims under the Immigration Ordinance that meet high standards of fairness as required by law.

The United Nations Refugees 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 on grounds of persecution, the claimant will be referred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for consideration of arrangement of resettlement in a third country.

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

Against the surge in the number of non-refoulement claimants, the Department will explore all possible ways within the existing legal framework to expedite the screening of claims by more efficient use of available resources.

Combating Mainland Pregnant Women Coming to Hong Kong for Confinement by Illegal Means

The Department is committed to combating Mainland pregnant women giving birth in Hong Kong through illicit means. In 2015, the Department prosecuted 46 Mainland pregnant women who had overstayed to give birth in Hong Kong and 15 Mainland pregnant women who gave birth in Hong Kong through illicit means. They were all convicted and sentenced up to 20 months’ imprisonment.

To tie in with the implementation of ‘zero-quota’ policy promulgated by the HKSAR Government in 2013, the Department has set up a special task unit since November 2012 to collect relevant data from private hospitals for analysis so as to combat cases of obtaining ‘Confirmation Certificate on Delivery Booking’ for delivery in Hong Kong by means of bogus marriage. As at the end of 2015, a total of 331 doubtful cases were detected from about 19,100 delivery bookings with 30 persons being successfully prosecuted, which included 9 Mainland pregnant women, 17 Hong Kong resident husbands and 4 intermediaries.

To crack down on illegal hostels for Mainland pregnant women, the Department has worked closely with the Hong Kong Police Force and the Office of the Licensing Authority of the Home Affairs Department in exchanging intelligence and conducting joint operations since February 2012. In 2015, 39 joint operations were conducted to inspect unlicensed guesthouses to deter non-local pregnant women from entering Hong Kong early in order to evade immigration examination.

Combating Illegal Migration and Human Smuggling

Hong Kong is a metropolitan city and an international traffic hub. Forgery facilitators and illegal migrants tend to make use of Hong Kong’s extensive and convenient transportation network as a transit point to seek entry overseas. The Department undertakes an active role in combating illegal activities and contributes in containing and preventing illegal migration from dispersion as well as preventing Hong Kong from being used as a springboard for human smuggling activities. The Special Investigation Section, formed in early 1980s, is specialised in the investigation of organised immigration offences, including human smuggling activities, occurring in or involving Hong Kong. It works closely with other law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong, the Mainland and overseas with the mutual aim to combat organised human smuggling activities.

The Department, from time to time, conducts interdiction exercises at the Hong Kong International Airport to apprehend forged travel document users and forgery syndicate members. The exercises include operations on arrival and departure flights, spot checks of travel documents of arriving and departing passengers inside the transit lounge, at boarding gates and the SkyPier as well as observation operations. In December 2015, the Department conducted a special joint operation codenamed ‘Sky League’ again at the Hong Kong International Airport with the participation of various local consulate representatives as advisers or observers. During the operation, 723 departure/arrival flights and arrival ferries from the SkyPier together with 853 passengers were spot-checked.

Besides, the Department is very concerned with the illegal entries of nationals of South Asian and African countries from the Mainland. In order to combat the problem, close liaison and intelligence exchange are maintained with the Hong Kong Police Force and the Mainland authorities for joint efforts in combating these illicit activities.

‘Firenet’ opearation neutralised an active cross-boundary human smuggling syndicate which specialised in arranging for Vietnamese nationals to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong.

In January 2015, a joint operation codenamed ‘Firenet’ was conducted by the Department and the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department, the Shenzhen Municipal Public Security Bureau and the Shenzhen General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection to neutralise an active cross-boundary human smuggling syndicate which specialised in arranging for Vietnamese nationals to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong. During the operation, investigators arrested 23 persons including 3 core syndicate members. In addition, a number of exhibits were seized, including forged Hong Kong identity cards and copies, unlawfully altered Vietnamese entry and exit permits and bankbooks. 9 of the arrested persons were convicted with sentences ranging from a fine of $2,000 to 15 months’ imprisonment.

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 for nationals of South Asian countries to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong. During the operation, a total of 14 suspects, including 2 masterminds, were arrested. 4 of the arrested persons were convicted, with sentences ranging from 3 to 15 months’ imprisonment. In September 2015, a joint operation codenamed ‘Sunlever II’ was conducted to smash a human-smuggling syndicate which specialised in arranging for Vietnamese nationals to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong. During the operation, a total of 18 persons, including 2 syndicate members, were arrested. 4 of the arrested persons were convicted and each was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment.

The Operational Research Section and Tactical Intelligence Group of Anti-Illegal Migration Agency closely monitor the latest trends on illegal migration as well as the modus operandi adopted by human smuggling syndicates. They maintain close liaison with the local, Mainland and overseas authorities and representatives of foreign counterparts on the exchange of relevant intelligence and trends. Frontline officers would be alerted whenever new trends on forged travel documents and illegal migration are observed.

Combating Bogus Marriages

The Department has grave concerns about non-Hong Kong residents obtaining stay in Hong Kong by means of bogus marriages. These people contracted bogus marriages with Hong Kong residents in order to gain entry into Hong Kong and eventually for settlement.

On 18 December 2006, the Department set up a special task force to collate intelligence through various sources and to conduct thorough investigation with a view to taking prosecution actions against offenders. The Department smashed a syndicate arranging cross-boundary bogus marriages for young people during the operations conducted since July 2014. A total of 69 suspects, including the syndicate’s mastermind and 3 core members were arrested and a number of Hong Kong and Mainland marriage certificates as well as birth certificates or their copies, mobile phones etc. were seized. In 2015, the mastermind and 1 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.

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

In 2015, a total of 113 persons, including the bogus couples and syndicate members, were prosecuted for offences relating to bogus marriages. Persons convicted of such offences were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 6 to 22 months.

For persons who have obtained their residence in Hong Kong by fraudulent means, their Hong Kong identity cards and residence status will be invalidated according to the laws of Hong Kong. They will also be subject to removal to their places of origin.

Exchange of Intelligence

In the fight against illegal migration, exchange of information and intelligence on global human smuggling activities and forgery trends is of utmost importance. The Department discusses issues on illegal migration, crimes and terrorism through frequent and regular meetings with major local consular missions. In 2015, the Department actively participated in international and regional conferences and seminars, e.g. representatives from the Department attended the ‘10th Symposium on Police Studies of the Straits cum Hong Kong and Macao on the Combat and Policing Co-operation against Emerging Cross-boundary Crimes’ held in Taiwan and the ‘4th World BORDERPOL Congress’ held in the Netherlands. The Department has successfully established an effective communication network as well as working relationship with foreign and Mainland counterparts in facilitating exchange of intelligence and proactive actions in combating illegal migration activities. Useful intelligence that may help detecting, disrupting or suppressing illegal migration activities is promptly disseminated through the established mechanism.