Immigration Department Review 2018

  • February 14,2019
  • The Director of Immigration, Mr Tsang Kwok-wai, delivered a year-end review of the Immigration Department (ImmD)'s work in 2018 and its future outlook today (February 1). The following is a summary of the department's major activities in 2018:

    Traffic at control points
    Over 314 million passengers passed through Hong Kong's control points in 2018, representing an increase of 5.1 per cent over 2017. The total number of visitor arrivals exceeded 65.14 million, representing a 11.4 per cent increase as compared with that of 2017, of which Mainland visitor arrivals was 50.8 million, representing an increase of 15 per cent when compared with that of 2017. Moreover, the number of arrivals of other visitors in 2018 was 14.34 million, which was 0.5 per cent higher than that of 2017. Among the visitor arrivals in 2018, 14.39 million visitors travelled through the Airport Control Point, while over 45.93 million visitors and 4.82 million visitors passed through land control points and sea control points respectively.

    Facilitation of people movement
    Commissioning of new control points

    The West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port were commissioned on September 23, 2018, and October 24, 2018, respectively, further enhancing the overall passenger handling capacity of control points.

    The West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link has adopted the co-location arrangement which allows passengers to go through both Hong Kong and Mainland immigration clearance inside the control point. A total of 98 immigration counters and 51 multi-purpose e-Channels are available for cross-boundary passenger clearance at the control point.

    The boundary crossing facilities of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Control Point adopt the "separate locations" mode of clearance arrangement. The governments of the three places have set their own boundary crossing facilities within their respective boundaries. Facilities such as the Passenger Clearance Building and vehicle clearance kiosks at the Hong Kong Port provide immigration clearance service for cross-boundary passengers and drivers respectively. In the Hong Kong Port, there are a total of 96 immigration counters and 53 multi-purpose e-Channels for passenger clearance and 52 vehicular clearance kiosks for cross-boundary shuttle buses, coaches, private cars and goods vehicles.

    Extension of the e-Channel service

    To further enhance passenger clearance handling capacity and efficiency, the department has effectively utilised information technology and extended the e-Channel service to accommodate more passengers. As at the end of 2018, a total of 699 multi-purpose e-Channels were installed at all control points and could be flexibly deployed for use by eligible Hong Kong residents or visitors. Among them, 104 new e-Channels are installed at the West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port with enhanced aesthetics and ergonomics, higher operation efficiency, and more convenient and faster services.

    Moreover, to further assist visually impaired persons in using the e-Channel service, after the launch of the voice-navigated service at the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Macau Ferry Terminal, Shenzhen Bay and China Ferry Terminal Control Points, the service was extended to the Lo Wu Control Point and the newly commissioned West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port in 2018.

    Following the arrangement for mutual use of automated immigration clearance services with Korea, Singapore, Germany and Australia, a similar arrangement with Thailand was implemented on September 15, 2018. Under the new arrangement, eligible holders of a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) electronic passport can use the automated immigration clearance service in Thailand without prior enrolment, while eligible holders of a Thai passport can enrol for the e-Channel service in Hong Kong.

    Furthermore, the department and Singapore have relaxed the requirement for enrolment for automated clearance service. With effect from December 13, 2018, the required number of visits paid by eligible Singaporean passport holders to Hong Kong prior to enrolment has been relaxed from no fewer than three times within 12 months to no fewer than two times within 24 months. A reciprocal arrangement has also been offered to HKSAR passport holders visiting Singapore.

    The HKSAR Government will continue to liaise with countries and regions having close ties with Hong Kong in tourism and trade to introduce the mutual use of automated immigration clearance service. The department believes that this will allow greater travel convenience for people in Hong Kong and its partnering economies, which in turn will enhance the economic, social and cultural ties between the places.

    Attracting talent from outside Hong Kong
    General Employment Policy (GEP)

    Hong Kong maintains an open policy towards professionals and entrepreneurs entering the city for employment or investment. The prevailing GEP allows entry for those with skills, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in Hong Kong, or who can contribute substantially to the economy. In 2018, 41 592 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 arts and culture, academic research and education, and financial services. In 2018, a total of 13 768 applications were approved.

    Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS)

    The QMAS was launched in June 2006 and aims to attract highly skilled or talented persons to settle in Hong Kong in order to enhance Hong Kong's economic competitiveness. Talent from around the world can apply to settle in Hong Kong without first securing an offer of local employment. The HKSAR Government promulgated the first Talent List of Hong Kong, which contains 11 professions, on August 28, 2018. Applicants who meet the requirements of the Talent List will be awarded 30 bonus points under the General Points Test (GPT) after assessment. In 2018, 555 applicants were allotted under the quotas, with 527 under the GPT (including five applicants who were awarded 30 bonus points for meeting the requirements of the Talent List) and 28 under the Achievement-based Points Test (APT). Applicants allotted through quotas under the GPT were mainly from four sectors, namely financial and accounting services, information technology and telecommunications, architecture, surveying, engineering and construction, and commerce and trade. 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. With effect from May 14, 2018, the IANG has been extended to cover non-local students who have obtained an undergraduate or higher qualification in a full-time locally accredited non-local programme in Hong Kong. In 2018, 10 150 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. As at the end of 2018, the department had received 675 applications, of which 386 applications had been approved. The majority of the applicants approved came from the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and they held bachelor's or master's degrees mainly in engineering, finance, information technology or law. Some of them also had relevant experience that could supplement Hong Kong's human capital.

    Relaxation of the stay arrangements for talent, professionals and entrepreneurs

    To take a more proactive approach to recruiting and retaining talent, professionals and entrepreneurs from outside Hong Kong, and hence expand the talent pool, 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 may be granted a six-year extension on time limitation only without other conditions of stay upon application for extension, with a view to facilitating their long-term development in Hong Kong. From its implementation to the end of 2018, 3 502 top-tier entrants had benefited from the measure.

    Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS)

    The HKSAR Government rolled out the TechTAS on June 25, 2018, to provide a fast-track arrangement for eligible technology companies/institutes to admit non-local technology talent to undertake research and development work in Hong Kong. Eligible technology companies/institutes would first have to apply for a place under a quota from the Innovation and Technology Commission. A company/institute allotted under a quota can accordingly sponsor an eligible person to apply from the department for an employment visa/entry permit within the six-month quota validity period. As at the end of 2018, a total of 29 applications for the relevant employment visa/entry permit had been received, of which 24 had been approved.

    Promotion of talent admission schemes to attract talent

    To take a more proactive approach to attracting talent and professionals from outside Hong Kong, officers of the department visited Australia and New Zealand in 2018. Publicity activities were organised to introduce various talent admission schemes to the second generation of emigrated Hong Kong residents and others who are interested in developing a career in Hong Kong. The department will continue to promote various talent admission schemes in 2019 so as to attract talent from around the world to Hong Kong for development and make contributions to Hong Kong's economy.

    Law enforcement
    Operations against illegal workers and parallel traders

    The department is greatly concerned about illegal employment offences. In 2018, 16 108 operations against illegal employment were conducted, with 6 290 illegal workers and 660 employers arrested. In addition, the department has continued to step up enforcement action against illegal workers who were non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants (NECIIs) or non-refoulement claimants and their employers. In 2018, the department conducted 720 targeted operations against non-ethnic Chinese illegal workers, in which a total of 451 non-ethnic Chinese illegal workers and 242 local employers were arrested.

    The department has been making concerted efforts to combat offences involving parallel trade activities. Since September 2012, the department has mounted a series of anti-illegal worker operations code-named "Windsand". As at the end of 2018, a total of 3 455 Mainland visitors had been arrested for breaching their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading, and 19 local employers had been arrested on suspicion of employing illegal workers. Among them, 231 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.

    Moreover, the department has established a monitoring list of suspected parallel traders, which contains information on persons suspected to be involved in parallel trading activities collected through various means, including information from arrested and convicted persons, intelligence and analysis of immigration data. When they seek entry in future, the department will conduct examination and, if their purpose of entry is in doubt, refuse their entry and repatriate them to the Mainland immediately. Meanwhile, spot checks and special operations will continue to be conducted at control points to detect visitors who are suspected of being involved in parallel trade activities. As at the end of 2018, information on about 24 600 suspected Mainland parallel traders had been included in the monitoring list and over 74 500 entries had been refused over the years.

    Immigration measures for Mainland pregnant women

    In order to tie in with the "zero quota" policy implemented since 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 a Hong Kong resident, 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 and methods of gate-crashing so as to arrange targeted interception. In 2018, 60 375 Mainland pregnant women were intercepted at control points, of whom 4 345 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. In addition, the number of Mainland pregnant women seeking delivery services at local hospitals without prior booking has declined substantially to an average of fewer than two cases per month in 2018, 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. Meanwhile, the Marriage Registries have also stepped up vigilance on suspected cases. The department will thoroughly investigate each suspected case with a view to collecting sufficient evidence so as to prosecute the suspected persons involved. In 2018, 67 persons were convicted of offences relating to bogus marriages and were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 12 to 42 months.

    The department has been aware that some criminal syndicates have continually published via newspapers, instant messaging software and social networking mobile applications to induce young people to engage in bogus marriages for huge remuneration. After intelligence analysis and in-depth investigation, the department smashed a syndicate arranging cross-boundary bogus marriages in a series of arrest operations code-named "Flashspear" conducted since May 2016. A total of 91 Hong Kong and Mainland residents have been arrested so far, including three core syndicate members who were Hong Kong permanent residents. The three core syndicate members were convicted of the offences of conspiracy to defraud, and were jailed for 30 to 42 months in September 2018 while a further 19 arrestees of the case were convicted of the offence of conspiracy to defraud and were sentenced to four to 18 months' imprisonment. Furthermore, the department conducted an operation code-named "Snare" by deploying an officer in disguise to meet a bogus marriage intermediary in December 2017. A total of 84 immigration offenders have been arrested in the operation so far, including the syndicate mastermind, three core syndicate members, and 80 Hong Kong and Mainland residents who were suspected of participating in bogus marriages. In April 2018, the mastermind pleaded guilty to the charge of incitement to commit conspiracy and was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment. The above two operations are ongoing and more prosecutions may be instituted. In addition, Mainland law enforcement agencies have been notified about the cases of the Mainlanders.

    To remind members of the public, including young people, of the possible consequences of participating in bogus marriages and the serious implications of committing related offences, the department has from time to time disseminated information on crackdowns on bogus marriage syndicates and successful prosecutions of intermediaries and participants through press conferences, press releases, media interviews and more. To deliver the relevant information more effectively, the department also produced a short video about bogus marriage. The department will continue to deliver such messages via various innovative channels so as to remind members of the public not to participate in activities relating to bogus marriages.

    Combating transnational illegal migration and 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 (AIM) fights against transnational illegal migration and investigates cases involving HKSAR passports. In May 2018, the AIM received intelligence and intercepted a Sri Lankan man and a Canadian man who were involved in illegal migration activities. They pleaded guilty to one count of obtaining services by deception and were sentenced to 18 and 22 months' imprisonment respectively. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan man also pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a forged travel document and was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment. All sentences were to run concurrently, making a total of 18 months' imprisonment. The department often holds regular meetings with local consular missions to discuss the tackling of problems relating to illegal migration and cross-boundary crimes. Meanwhile, a proactive approach has been adopted for crimes involving transnational illegal migration by conducting joint operations with international and local law enforcement agencies. In November 2018, a special operation code-named "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, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States as advisers or observers.

    The department spares no effort in combating travel document forgery in order to prevent the use of forged travel documents to enter Hong Kong or go to other countries by passing through Hong Kong. In 2018, a total of 28 982 operations against forgery activities were conducted and 28 993 passengers were spot-checked, with a total of 449 forged travel documents and 196 forged smart Hong Kong identity cards (HKICs) detected. 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 HKICs for illicit purposes, the department will continue to deliver talks on the security features of smart HKICs, 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.

    Stepping up efforts in combating trafficking in persons (TIP)

    To ensure the effective implementation of anti-TIP work and heighten public awareness of TIP, the HKSAR Government established in March 2018 a high-level Steering Committee chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration, with the Secretary for Security and the Secretary for Labour and Welfare as the vice-chairmen and relevant department heads as members. The Steering Committee will offer strategic steer in respect of tackling TIP and enhancing the protection of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs), and formulate the Action Plan to Tackle Trafficking in Persons and to Enhance Protection of Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong to outline a series of multifaceted measures that are comprehensive, strategic and targeted, covering multiple areas such as victim identification, investigation, enforcement, prosecution, victim protection and support, prevention, and partnership with different stakeholders.

    The department attaches great importance to combating TIP. One of the key tasks in combating TIP is to keep strengthening and improving the mechanism for identifying victims. The department first launched a TIP victim screening mechanism in 2015 and conducts screening and identification on persons with high risk of being exploited (such as illegal immigrants, sex workers, illegal workers, FDHs, imported workers, and suspected victims in other cases) who have been arrested or who report themselves as victims.

    On investigation, the department will continue to participate in the regular meetings of the Inter-departmental Joint Investigation Team comprising the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), the Customs and Excise Department, the Labour Department and the ImmD to discuss the latest TIP trends and the enforcement measures against TIP crimes, exchange intelligence, and conduct joint investigations.

    On staff training, the department has included the topic of TIP in the induction training for all officers. In addition, the department will continue to actively participate in international or regional conferences and workshops, such as the International Conference on Combating Human Trafficking, so as to identify the best practices against TIP.

    Establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Division

    In order to strengthen the department's detection and investigation capability in regard to terrorism, the Counter-Terrorism Division (CTD) was established in June 2018 to formulate and review departmental strategies relating to counter-terrorism (CT), collect and analyse CT intelligence, investigate and take enforcement action against the entry and exit of suspected terrorists, and liaise with local, Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies as well as consulates in Hong Kong. In addition, the department has deployed seven officers of the CTD to serve as the ImmD's representatives in the Inter-departmental Counter Terrorism Unit (ICTU).

    In light of terrorist threat assessments and actual circumstances, the department will continue to take appropriate control measures and step up interception and examination of suspicious travellers at various control points. In addition, the department will include the information of visitors suspected of being associated with terrorist activities in a watch list. Any such persons intercepted at control points will be refused permission to land and referred to relevant law enforcement agencies for follow-up. In 2018, a total of 3 909 operations were conducted at Hong Kong International Airport as well as various border and harbour control points, and a total of 14 278 passengers were intercepted for enquiries.

    To enhance the professional knowledge and awareness of CT-related issues among its staff, the department provides specialised CT training for front-line officers for interception of suspicious visitors who are suspected to have been involved in terrorist activities. Since November 2016, internal CT training and drills have been regularly organised. As at the end of 2018, a total of 47 internal CT training sessions had been organised for 2 784 officers, while a total of six CT training sessions had been organised for 326 officers since the establishment of the ICTU.

    To enable Hong Kong to remain as one of the safest cities in the world, free from threats of terrorism, the department will continue to exchange intelligence with local, Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies through different channels; conduct analysis and investigation on the intelligence gathered; and exercise effective immigration control in accordance with the law to prevent entry of undesirable persons who may pose a threat to the law and order of Hong Kong.

    Comprehensive review of the strategy for handling non-refoulement claims
    The Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) commenced its operation in March 2014. In view of the significant increase of claims lodged through illegal entry, overstaying and being refused permission to land at control points at the initial stage of the implementation of the USM, the HKSAR Government commenced a comprehensive review of the strategy for handling non-refoulement claims in 2016. Various targeted measures have been introduced including prevention of the arrival of potential claimants, expediting screening procedures, strengthening enforcement and prompt removal of rejected claimants from Hong Kong to tackle the issue of non-refoulement claims at root. The department has been providing active support accordingly and such measures continually achieved prominent results in 2018.

    Enforcement action against smuggling of NECIIs

    At the early stage of the commencement of the USM, smuggling via the Mainland from their countries of origin was one of main ways of arrival of claimants in Hong Kong, and of them the majority originated from countries not enjoying visa-free access to Hong Kong including Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The department is very concerned about the situation, and has maintained close liaison and intelligence exchange with the HKPF and the Mainland authorities for joint efforts in combating these illicit activities at source.

    Since the commencement of the special operations in mid-February 2016, the border control departments and the exit and entry offices of relevant Mainland provinces have taken sustained enforcement action against illegal immigration activities in various Mainland provinces. The effectiveness of operations was remarkable. The number of NECIIs intercepted has been declining since mid-2016. In 2018, a total of 639 NECIIs (a monthly average of 53) were intercepted, a drop of 87 per cent compared with the peak of 1 241 NECIIs (a monthly average of 414) intercepted in the third quarter of 2015. In 2018, the department conducted nine joint operations with the HKPF and Mainland law enforcement agencies and successfully smashed a number of cross-boundary crime syndicates, resulting in the arrest of over 150 core members of smuggling syndicates and 440 involved persons.

    The department noted that syndicates arranging entry of NECIIs into Hong Kong would change tactics from time to time, in routes to Hong Kong and in modes of operation. The department will continue to work closely with the local and Mainland law enforcement agencies, with vigorous actions against illegal immigration activities on land and at sea, as well as cracking down on syndicates.

    Implementation of Pre-arrival Registration (PAR) for Indian Nationals

    Quite a number of the claimants were Indian visitors who arrived in Hong Kong by making use of the visa-free concession and overstayed afterwards. Therefore, the department introduced PAR for Indian Nationals with effect from January 23, 2017, so as to prevent doubtful visitors with high immigration risk from coming to Hong Kong. Under the arrangement, 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. Otherwise, they should apply for an entry visa to the ImmD directly if they intend to visit Hong Kong. PAR is valid for six months and allows multiple entries. 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 and valid Indian passport to make multiple visits to Hong Kong for a stay of up to 14 days for each visit. As at the end of 2018, a total of 663 885 Indian nationals had successfully completed PAR. Since the implementation of PAR till end of 2018, the monthly average of Indian overstayers dropped by over 80 per cent while the monthly average of non-refoulement claims lodged by Indian nationals decreased by almost 80 per cent as compared with the figures in 2016.

    Enforcement action against claimants taking up illegal employment in Hong Kong and their employers

    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. Since the Ordinance came into effect until the end of 2018, 2 132 persons had been arrested on suspicion of breaching the Ordinance.

    The department has kept stepping up enforcement against illegal workers who are non-refoulement claimants and their employers. Analysis indicates that illegal immigrants or non-refoulement claimants who take up unlawful employment usually participate in recycling industries, the catering sector and renovation sites in certain districts. Accordingly, the department has continued to step up targeted inspection and intelligence gathering against such venues as factories, restaurants, food processing industries, premises under renovation, recycling centres, container depots and warehouses in these districts and conduct raids where appropriate (including joint operations with other law enforcement agencies as necessary). In 2018, the department conducted 720 targeted operations against non-ethnic Chinese illegal workers. A total of 451 non-ethnic Chinese illegal workers and 242 local employers were arrested. At the same time, the department will continue to enhance publicity to remind employers that employing unemployable persons is a serious offence for which they are liable to immediate imprisonment.

    Screening procedures

    Since USM commenced operation in March 2014, the department has been assessing non-refoulement claims made on all applicable grounds, and a total of 6 699 claims were pending screening at the commencement of the USM. From March 2014 to the end of 2018, the department had received 16 584 claims and determined 16 032 claims, amongst which 127 claims were substantiated, while 6 705 claims were withdrawn. Overall as at the end of 2018, the total number of claims pending screening was 546, a substantial decrease of 91 per cent as compared to 5 899 claims pending screening as at the end of 2017. Amongst those claimants with pending claims, around 66 per cent originated from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

    In 2018, a total of 1 216 non-refoulement claims were received, down by 34 per cent from 1 843 claims in 2017 and a significant reduction of about 80 per cent compared with the peak period. Meanwhile, the department has always strived to introduce various measures under the existing legal framework to enhance screening procedures and optimise the use of available resources, which include advanced scheduling of screening interview arrangements and smoothened flow of briefing sessions so as to expedite the claims processing. Currently, the average processing time has been reduced to about 10 weeks while the successful rate of screening interviews has been raised from 61 per cent in 2014, i.e. at the initial stage of the implementation of the USM, to 94 per cent in 2018.

    In regard to the implementation of USM so far, through various measures to expedite the claims processing and as the HKSAR Government had accordingly increased the quota of Provision of Publicly Funded Legal Assistance for Non-refoulement Claimants, the department determined 5 467 claims in 2018, registering a 31 per cent increase as compared to 4 182 claims in 2017 and meeting the target of increasing the screening capacity to 5 000 determined cases per year. As the existing measures are taking effect, the department completed the screening of backlog claims in January 2019. With the clearance of the backlog, new claims received could be handled by the department readily. The department's focus will now gradually shift downstream by concentrating manpower and resources on work, first and foremost, to provide support in the handling of appeals, and to remove rejected claimants from Hong Kong promptly.

    Given that most of the unsubstantiated claimants would lodge appeals against the decision of the department, the HKSAR Government has deployed more resources and appointed new members to the Torture Claims Appeal Board with a view to expediting the appeal process. The department will spare no effort to provide full support on the appeal proceedings concerned, through measures including re-allocation of manpower and resources, and optimising the workflow. Regarding the increasing number of judicial reviews in relation to non-refoulement claims, the HKSAR Government has maintained contact with the Judiciary on the situation of non-refoulement claim processing all along. The department will flexibly make arrangements according to the situation and provide appropriate support in response to the relevant civil litigations.

    To better codify the screening procedures and prevent deliberate delay or abuses, the HKSAR Government is conducting a review of the legislative provisions under the Immigration Ordinance governing procedures on screening of claims and related matters by taking into account the current operational experience of the USM and the relevant overseas laws and practices. The HKSAR Government briefed the Legislative Council (LegCo) on progress of the review on July 10, 2018, and January 8, 2019, and plans to table a bill to the LegCo in the first half of 2019. The department will actively assist the work on amending the legislation.

    Expedited removal of unsubstantiated claimants

    The department is committed to removing all unsubstantiated non-refoulement claimants from the HKSAR as soon as possible in accordance with prevailing laws. The department has all along been in close liaison with governments of major source countries of claimants, airline companies and other government departments, to ensure unsubstantiated claimants are removed from Hong Kong as soon as possible. In 2018, 2 527 non-refoulement claimants have been removed, of which 1 859 were refused claimants, representing an increase of 38.7 per cent when compared with the figure in 2017.

    The department has also been actively identifying various means to further enhance the removal efficiency, such as conducting large-scale removal operations by chartered flights. As a result, the efficiency in removal arrangements has been substantially improved. The department has chartered three flights to effect large-scale repatriation of a total of 171 Vietnamese illegal immigrants since the end of 2017. The chartered flights in December 2017 and February and December 2018 successfully repatriated 68, 20 and 83 Vietnamese illegal immigrants respectively. For those who are resistant to being repatriated voluntarily and even resist repatriation through violent acts, the department will liaise with relevant consulates and airlines for arrangement of forced repatriation, or for immigration staff to accompany removees on board the same flight if the situation warrants.

    Since the removal process could be hindered by external factors including whether there are reasons in respect of the claimants obstructing the removal arrangement, availability of flights, or the time required to apply for travel documents to return to their countries of origin, the department will proactively communicate and co-ordinate with all different parties, and continue to devise strategic plans for related work. The department will continue to explore every viable means to effect repatriation in light of the actual circumstances.

    Liaison with major source countries

    In addition, the department is committed to establishing close liaison with major source countries of non-refoulement claimants. The department has introduced Hong Kong's stringent legislative provisions against illegal employment and human trafficking as well as the objectives of the implementation of the USM, explored co-operation with the local authorities on intelligence gathering and liaison on enforcement and discussed ways to expedite the removal process through conducting duty visits to Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh in the past. The department will, depending on the need, send delegates to the relevant major source countries to express concern over human smuggling of their nationals and the situation of their lodging non-refoulement claims in Hong Kong, while strengthening liaison, exchange of intelligence and co-operation with the local law enforcement agencies in those countries. Moreover, closer liaison with local consulates concerned will also be maintained to further expedite the removal of unsubstantiated claimants.

    Next Generation Smart Identity Card Replacement Exercise
    The new smart HKICs and the Next Generation Smart Identity Card System (SMARTICS-2) were launched at the five Registration of Persons Offices on November 26, 2018. In addition, the territory-wide identity card replacement exercise was rolled out on December 27, 2018, and nine Smart Identity Card Replacement Centres (SIDCCs) have been newly established to replace identity cards for residents.

    There are enhancements in security features and chip technology for personal data protection on the new smart HKICs. Made of higher quality materials, the new HKICs are more durable. From November 26, 2018, to January 31, 2019, the department issued a total of 100 754 new smart HKICs, of which 26 287 were issued under the replacement exercise.

    SMARTICS-2 has introduced various new functions and facilities to provide faster and more convenient services for residents, including launching an updated version of the mobile application, which allows residents to make appointments for identity card registration or replacement, fill in an electronic form in advance and enquire about the queuing status. In addition, the newly established Self-service Tag Issuing Kiosks, Self-service Registration Kiosks and Self-service Collection Kiosks provide faster and more convenient services for residents.

    Regarding the call-up programme, members of the Immigration Service, police officers and labour inspectors have begun replacing their identity cards in the first phase (from December 27, 2018, to March 30, 2019), allowing them to get familiar with the features of the new smart HKICs for fighting against illegal immigration and illegal employment. In addition, the Chief Executive, members of the Executive Council and the LegCo, and Principal Officials have an option to replace their identity cards in this phase so as to promote the new smart identity card.

    For other smart identity card holders, the replacement of their identity cards in phases in accordance with their year of birth commenced on January 21, 2019. The first batch will be Hong Kong residents born in 1985 or 1986, who should have their HKICs replaced on or before March 30, 2019. From the beginning of the replacement exercise to January 31, 2019, the department had processed 92 796 applications, in which around 91 per cent of applicants had made an appointment and over 80 per cent of them had filled in the form in advance via the Internet or the mobile application, which had contributed to a faster and smoother replacement process and significantly increased the overall operation efficiency. The next batch will be Hong Kong residents born in 1968 or 1969, who should have their identity cards replaced from April 1, 2019, to June 1, 2019. The department will announce the call-up programme for other age groups in due course. Subject to the actual progress, the whole replacement exercise is expected to last for about four years.

    The department has all along upheld its values of striving for excellence in serving the public. Compared with the last replacement exercise, the registration processing time at the SIDCCs in this replacement exercise has been reduced from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. The processing time for the issuance of a new smart HKIC has also been shortened from 10 to seven working days. In addition, the department has introduced facilitation measures in the replacement exercise, whereby residents who are called up for card replacement may bring along up to two family members or friends aged 65 or above to replace their smart identity cards in the same trip, so that these elderly persons need not go to an SIDCC separately by themselves when their respective age groups are called up for identity card replacement at a later stage. From January 21 to 31, 2019, 8 099 applicants had brought along one or two family members or friends aged 65 or above to replace their smart identity cards.

    To conduct the replacement exercise more effectively, the department will continue to introduce the new smart HKIC and promulgate the details of the replacement exercise to residents living in or outside Hong Kong through various publicity channels.

    HKSAR passport issuance and visa-free access
    In 2018, the department issued 701 467 HKSAR passports. Belarus, Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda and Myanmar agreed to grant visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to HKSAR passport holders. Hence, a total of 163 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.

    Addition of newly designed self-service kiosks
    To further enhance the service efficiency in meeting the demand for HKSAR passports, nine newly designed self-service kiosks have been set up at the Immigration Headquarters and Immigration branch offices. The total number of self-service kiosks has increased from 19 to 28, which facilitates self-service submission of HKSAR passport applications.

    Relocation of Yuen Long Office and expansion of Fo Tan Office
    The Yuen Long Office (YLO) was relocated to 1/F, Yuen Long Government Offices, 2 Kiu Lok Square, Yuen Long, in February 2018 whereas the expansion project of the Fo Tan Office (FTO) was completed in January 2018. These two offices mainly provide public services related to application for and issuance of HKSAR travel documents, application for extension of stay in Hong Kong, and registration for and replacement of identity cards. The new YLO is conveniently located, and its floor area has substantially increased as compared to the original office, which allows members of the public to make their applications in a more spacious environment. Following its expansion, the FTO now has more service counters and its handling capacity has been enhanced to further improve its quality of services for members of the public.

    Provision of HKSAR passport replacement service by the Immigration Divisions of Mainland Offices
    To further assist Hong Kong residents in the Mainland, with effect from November 7, 2016, they could 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 in Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangdong. The service was extended to the Immigration Division of the Economic and Trade Office of the Government of the HKSAR in Wuhan with effect from November 27, 2017. In 2018, a total of 2 660 HKSAR passport replacement applications were handled through the five Immigration Divisions of Mainland Offices.

    Assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress outside Hong Kong
    The Assistance to Hong Kong Residents Unit (AHU) works closely with the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the HKSAR (OCMFA), overseas Chinese Diplomatic and Consular Missions (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. Moreover, the AHU has set up a 24-hour hotline, 1868, to provide emergency assistance for Hong Kong residents in any country or territory. Meanwhile, 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.

    In 2018, a total of 3 592 requests for assistance were handled by the AHU. Most requests were 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 hotline calls and public enquiries, or be sent to the places concerned to provide prompt assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress.

    To enhance public awareness of outbound travel safety, the department stepped up promotional campaigns in 2018. The department and the OCMFA co-organised seminars on "Overseas Safety and Consular Protection" with a number of universities, secondary schools and uniformed groups so as to introduce the consular protection provided by China and the work of the AHU. During the seminars, participants were reminded of points to note before departure and got travel tips for their journeys abroad, including means to seek assistance and other relevant information. To further enhance public understanding of consular protection and public awareness of outbound travel safety, the department and the OCMFA jointly produced an animated video on consular protection, which is being broadcast through different channels, including the Security Bureau's website, the department's website and YouTube channel, and at relevant immigration offices and immigration control points. A launching ceremony of the animated video was jointly held by the department and the OCMFA. Representatives of the tourism and aviation industries were invited to attend. The ceremony was also publicised via the media to further enhance public awareness of outbound travel safety and public understanding of consular protection. In the past Christmas Eve, the department and the OCMFA distributed thematic souvenirs at the Hong Kong International Airport Control Point to directly disseminate the message of outbound travel safety and consular protection to residents who were about to depart Hong Kong.

    Registration for Outbound Travel Information (ROTI)

    Hong Kong residents can register their contact details and itineraries via the ROTI service before setting off 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 and related public information via MyGovHK and, depending on the situation, via SMS on mobile phone as well. As at the end of 2018, a total of 75 454 Hong Kong residents had registered for the service.

    Major incidents outside Hong Kong

    In 2018, several major incidents involving Hong Kong residents occurred outside Hong Kong, including the earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan (February), a traffic accident in Adelaide, Australia (April), the natural disasters that occurred in Osaka and Hokkaido, Japan (September) and a traffic accident in Hokkaido, Japan (December). 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.

    Recruitment of service staff
    In the 2018-19 financial year, the department will recruit about 800 staff (including 200 Immigration Officers and 600 Immigration Assistants). In addition, the department will continue to recruit staff to meet the manpower needs for business development in the next financial year (2019-20). A new round of open recruitment of Immigration Officers will be launched in the first quarter of 2019 whereas the open recruitment of Immigration Assistants will continue all year round.

    Immigration training programmes recognised under the Qualifications Framework
    The department has been committed to providing flexible and diverse learning pathways to members of the Immigration Service with a view to enhancing the quality of the Immigration Service, promoting continuous learning culture and facilitating personal development of its members. In 2018, the department collaborated with the Open University of Hong Kong Li Ka Shing Institute of Professional and Continuing Education to offer three induction and in-service training programmes for the Immigration Assistant grade, which were recognised under the Qualifications Framework (QF). Upon completion of the induction training programmes under the QF, the newly recruited Immigration Assistants (IAs) will be awarded the Professional Diploma in Immigration Services and Control, which is at QF Level 4 (equivalent to the level of Associate Degree or Higher Diploma). In addition, Senior Immigration Assistants (SIAs) and Chief Immigration Assistants (CIAs) who have completed the relevant in-service training programmes will be awarded the Professional Certificate in Preparatory Management in Immigration Services and Control, which is at QF Level 4 (equivalent to the level of sub-degree), and the Professional Certificate in Frontline Management in Immigration Services and Control, which is at QF Level 5 (equivalent to the level of Bachelor Degree), respectively. As at the end of 2018, a total of 462 members of the Immigration Service, comprising 48 CIAs, 24 SIAs and 390 IAs, had completed the training programmes. The department will continue to apply for the inclusion of various training programmes in the Qualifications Register so that more members can acquire the relevant professional qualifications.

    Awards
    In the ever-changing technology landscape, the department must keep its services abreast of the times and spare no efforts in introducing user-friendly immigration measures and facilities to enhance the overall passenger clearance efficiency. Regarding the adoption of innovative technologies, the department in 2017 launched Smart Departure, a self-service departure system for visitors that employs facial recognition technology for identity verification. It won the 2018 Radiant Pioneer Award from the Asia Pacific Smart Card Association in recognition of its pioneering application of smart technology in public sector identity schemes for the provision of quality services to visitors. As at the end of 2018, over 6.2 million visitors had used the service.

    The department has upheld its values of striving for excellence in serving the public. The efforts the ImmD made to provide quality service continued to be recognised by a number of awards granted to the department. In the 2018 Hong Kong International Airport Customer Service Excellence Programme organised by the Airport Authority Hong Kong, the department won the Best Customer Service of the Year in Corporate Excellence Award and the Outstanding Customer Service in Cross-company Excellence Award with the Airport Authority Hong Kong. In addition, the department was awarded the Best Customer Service Enhancement Award and the Hong Kong International Airport 20th Anniversary Best Company for Customer Service Innovation Award. Furthermore, the officer with the highest number of votes in the Most Courteous Immigration Control Officers programme organised annually by the department will be appointed by the Hong Kong Tourism Board as the Hong Kong Courtesy Ambassador for promoting the courtesy values of the department.

    In 2018, two members of the department received the Ombudsman's Awards for Officers of Public Organisations, making this the 20th consecutive year in which ImmD officers were awarded. In addition, four members of the department were commended in the Secretary for the Civil Service's Commendation Award for their consistently outstanding performance. It was the 15th consecutive year that ImmD officers were commended. Furthermore, 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 its commitment to caring for the community, employees and the environment. The department will continue to strive with devotion and serve the public with excellence.

    The Hong Kong Immigration Department YouTube Channel
    The official YouTube Channel "Hong Kong Immigration Department" was launched in February 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", which features the most commonly used services and their respective application requirements and procedures, and "About Us" and "Departmental Activities", which introduce the department's work and activities respectively. In 2018, the department continued to produce and upload a number of short videos on the introduction of the territory-wide identity card replacement exercise, the features of the new smart HKIC and more. Since the launch of the Channel, more than 140 short videos have been uploaded with over 1.28 million views. The department will keep producing and uploading more videos and provide greater convenience for the public by making full use of different platforms.

    Vision for 2019
    New control points to be commissioned

    To cater for the social and economic development needs of the Mainland and Hong Kong, following the commissioning of the West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port in 2018, the Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point is expected to be completed in 2019, which will further enhance the overall passenger handling capacity of boundary control points. The department will actively support the relevant development and continue to provide efficient immigration clearance services for the public.

    Strengthening the caring measure of the territory-wide identity card replacement exercise

    Under the territory-wide identity card replacement exercise launched on December 27, 2018, the public will be called up to have their HKICs replaced in phases. The department will announce the call-up programmes for different age groups in due course. In addition, from the second quarter of 2019 onwards, the department will roll out for the first time the "On-site Identity Card Replacement Service", an outreach service whereby elderly persons and persons with disabilities can have their HKICs replaced at their residential care homes (RCHs) throughout the territory in phases. In addition to replacing their HKICs at an SIDCC in the period specified for their age groups, residents of the relevant RCHs may choose to have their HKICs replaced on-site at the RCHs.

    When preparing for the replacement exercise, the department consulted several non-governmental organisations for persons with disabilities to have a better understanding of their various needs. Having considered their views, the department increased the barrier-free and caring facilities at all replacement centres, including use of larger directional signage with higher colour contrast, electric height-adjustable registration desks and Braille application forms.

    In addition, for assisting the elderly and visually impaired persons to use the services at SIDCCs, the department has installed an indoor navigation system at the Hong Kong Island SIDCC. Through Bluetooth or wireless network signals, the system will detect the location of the user at the SIDCC to provide a navigation service. This system will also be installed in other SIDCCs. This is the first time for the Government to introduce this service, which is easy and simple to use, and users only need to use their smart phones to download the mobile application concerned.

    Launch of the Next Generation Electronic Passport System

    The Next Generation Electronic Passport System is expected to be implemented in phases in the second quarter of 2019, together with the launch of the new version of the HKSAR electronic passport with a number of up-to-date security features to keep the forgery rate low, which is crucial to the department's ongoing efforts in maintaining the confidence of overseas authorities to grant HKSAR passport holders visa-free access to their countries or territories.

    Development of the Next Generation Application and Investigation Easy Systems

    The funding application for the Next Generation Application and Investigation Easy Systems, including the Visa Automation System; the Assistance to Hong Kong Residents, Births, Deaths and Marriage and Right of Abode Decision Support System; and the Enforcement Case Processing System, was approved by the LegCo's Finance Committee on May 4, 2018. The tendering exercise is under way and the project is planned to be implemented in phases starting from 2021.

    Fostering co-operation and exchanges with countries along the Belt and Road

    To foster co-operation and exchanges between Hong Kong and countries along the Belt and Road, the HKSAR Government has recently entered into agreements on mutual visa-free arrangements with the Government of Panama and the Government of Armenia. With effect from February 10, 2019, HKSAR passport holders may visit Panama visa-free for a stay of up to 30 days. Likewise, national passport holders of Panama will also enjoy 30 days' visa-free access to Hong Kong. Furthermore, with effect from March 3, 2019, HKSAR passport holders may visit Armenia visa-free for a stay of up to 180 days whereas national passport holders of Armenia will enjoy 30 days' visa-free access to Hong Kong. By then, there will be a total of 165 countries and territories granting visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to holders of HKSAR passports. The department will continue to review and consider relaxing the visa requirements for nationals of the Belt and Road countries so as to foster tourism and cultural and economic exchanges.

    Continual efforts in the comprehensive review of the strategy for handling non-refoulement claims

    The comprehensive review of the strategy for handling non-refoulement claims has achieved initial results and the momentum will continue. With the clearance of the claims backlog, the department will continue the expeditious processing of new non-refoulement claims through procedures that meet high standards of fairness. Planning ahead, the department will now shift the focus of work downstream. Aiming to achieve synergy and higher efficacy, the department will dedicate full support to the appeal proceedings and expedite the removal process through flexible redeployment. The ImmD will ensure timely initiation of removal formalities and maintain effective communication with different parties (including claimants' major source countries) to that effect. The department will also make sustained efforts to combat the smuggling of NECIIs to Hong Kong, implement other pre-arrival control measures, and step up enforcement against unlawful employment to minimise incentives for claimants. The department's full support for the comprehensive review including the bill to amend the Immigration Ordinance will continue.

    Construction of the new Immigration Headquarters

    The department plans to submit the funding application for the construction of the new Immigration Headquarters in Tseung Kwan O to the LegCo's Public Works Subcommittee and Finance Committee in 2019. Apart from the existing Headquarters, some offices and facilities currently located in various districts and leased premises due to shortage of space will also be integrated into the proposed Headquarters with a view to increasing the department's command and operational efficiency, facilitating collaboration and communication and enhancing effectiveness in law enforcement. To provide more convenient and efficient services for the public, the department also plans to introduce smart elements into the new Headquarters, such as the provision of self-service stations with diversified services so that the public can submit applications and collect documents or visas without queuing for services over the counters. Subject to funding approval, the construction works are expected to commence in 2019.

    Tuen Mun Regional Office

    In order to enhance service quality and meet public demand for its services, the ImmD will set up the Tuen Mun Regional Office at the Government Complex in Siu Lun, Tuen Mun, in the third quarter of 2019. The Tuen Mun Regional Office will provide one-stop services for the public, including registration of persons, travel document applications, extension of stay applications, and births and marriage registration. It will also provide self-service facilities so that the public can enjoy more diversified electronic services.

    The existing Tuen Mun District Births Registry and Tuen Mun Marriage Registry will be relocated to the new Tuen Mun Regional Office with a view to providing faster and more convenient services in a cost-effective way. The marriage hall and the public waiting area of the new office will be more spacious as compared to those in the original site. A photo-taking corner will also be set up to enhance the service quality.

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