Effects of private bill would be far-reaching

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 1997, 12:00am

I refer to your editorial headlined, 'Immigration confusion', published on April 18. I would like to clarify a few points.

First, there is no confusion on the part of the Government between section 11 and section 61 of the Immigration Ordinance (Cap 115).

Section 11 empowers immigration officers or immigration assistants to give permission to land in Hong Kong to persons who are not Hong Kong permanent residents and to impose on them limits of stay and other conditions of stay as they think fit.

Section 61(1) states that a travel document is not valid for Hong Kong unless it bears a valid visa. Section 62(2) enables the Director of Immigration to exempt any person from the visa requirement.

Chan Yuen-han's private bill - Immigration (Amendment) No 2 Bill - seeks to introduce a third and fourth subsection to section 61, which subsections relate to the operation of section 11.

The proposed subsection (3) requires an immigration officer or immigration assistant to impose a condition of stay in respect of any person entering Hong Kong visa-free under section 61(2) that such a person cannot be employed during his stay in Hong Kong.

This has the effect of restricting the discretionary power conferred on immigration officers and immigration assistants by section 11 to impose or not to impose conditions of stay as they think fit.

If this new subsection is put into operation, immigration officers and immigration assistants would have no choice but to impose on all non-permanent residents entering visa-free the condition that they cannot work during their stay in Hong Kong.

That means non-permanent residents will all have to hold a visa if they are to enter Hong Kong to work.

Chan Yuen-han has proposed another subsection, subsection (4), to exempt one-way permit holders, consular staff and descendants of indigenous villagers from the proposed subsection (3).

There are, however, many other persons who are now exempt from visa requirements in entering Hong Kong and are not restricted by any condition of stay to work here, for example, foreign nationals who have been given unconditional stay status.

The effect of the proposed subsection (3) is that these persons would need to have a visa to be able to work in Hong Kong on return after any departure in the future.

Furthermore, the new subsection (3) affects every entry of these non-permanent residents. At present, a visa expires as soon as a person has entered Hong Kong, therefore, non-permanent residents would have to have a fresh visa for every entry into Hong Kong, regardless of how long they have been away.

If they left and returned before the limit of stay given to them on their first entry has expired, they would be required to obtain what is commonly known as a 're-entry visa'.

The Director of Immigration has exempted most non-permanent residents from re-entry visa requirement for all entries, that is, these persons do not need to apply for re-entry visas now.

The proposed subsection (3), however, compels immigration officers to impose a condition on these non-permanent residents prohibiting them from working here on every entry unless they hold a valid visa.

It would therefore be necessary for these non-permanent residents to apply for a visa before every departure from Hong Kong in order to be able to return to work.

Whilst the intention of this private bill may be simple, as presently drafted, its effects are far reaching as regards the director's immigration policies and practices.

The above analysis has already been presented to the Legislative Council Sub-committee, formed in February to scrutinise the government bill to remove immigration privileges conferred on British citizens and Chan Yuen-han's private bill, which subsequently became a Bills Committee.

INGRID HO for Secretary for Security