Recruitment keeps pace with rise in border traffic

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2007, 12:00am

The services provided by the Immigration Department connect to every aspect of Hong Kong people's lives, from birth, adolescence, adulthood and marriage to migration and death.

The department provides effective and efficient services, which include the registration of births, deaths and marriages, issuing identity cards and travel documents, exercising immigration control, as well as fighting immigration-related crimes.

Now, the 46-year-old department is facing challenges of increasing cross-border traffic and rising public expectations for quality services. To cope, the department, which has a workforce of 6,000, is recruiting for the first time since the last general hiring freeze for the civil service was imposed in April 2003.

'Our workload is increasing,' said Simon Lee Kam-man, commandant of the Immigration Service Institute of Training and Development.

'There has been sharp growth in border traffic. Since the individual travel scheme was introduced in 2003, many mainlanders have been visiting Hong Kong, especially during the golden weeks in May and October and Lunar New Year holidays,' Mr Lee said.

Last year, more than 202million travellers passed through boundary control points, up 5.7 per cent from 191million in 2005.

According to provisional figures, the total number of visitor arrivals during the golden week national holiday this May stood at 886,674, up 22 per cent from the same holiday period last year. Mainland visitors accounted for 61 per cent of this year's figure.

Demand for immigration control services looks set to increase with two new boundary control points in full operation this month. One is at the Lok Ma Chau crossing to tie in with the commissioning of the KCR's Lok Ma Chau spur line. The other is at the Shenzhen Bay control point.

'The public has higher expectations,' Mr Lee said. The department is addressing these challenges through manpower expansion and training.

With the government's recent lifting of the freeze on civil service hiring, the department is recruiting service staff, namely immigration officers (IOs) and immigration assistants (IAs).

'We aim to hire 200 IOs and 300 IAs, subject to adjustment,' Mr Lee said.

The jobs have been advertised and the selection process has begun.

'For IA candidates, there is an aptitude test and a physical fitness test. Those who pass both tests are invited to join a syndicate discussion with other candidates in English. Then there is a final interview,' Mr Lee said.

Candidates applying for IO positions need to sit a written examination on aptitude and essay writing, followed by a physical fitness test, and three rounds of interviews.

Successful candidates will have certain attributes. 'We are looking for people who have knowledge, including job-related knowledge, common sense and awareness of local, mainland and international affairs,' Mr Lee said.

'Their English must be good. Also important are presentation, communication and language skills, as well as organised thinking and responsiveness.

'And we like to have people who treat this as their life career,' Mr Lee said.

The recruits will be trained at the Immigration Service Institute of Training and Development facility in Tuen Mun, which came into operation last August as the force's largest training school and its first to provide residential training.

'Our training will help recruits develop a healthy mind and physique,' Mr Lee said.

For IAs, training lasts 13 weeks. 'We teach them knowledge such as related ordinances and how to take statements. There is tactical training such as how to deal with resistance. We also provide physical training,' Mr Lee said. 'We train them to have a sense of discipline. There are drills every day.'

For IOs, training takes 25 weeks and the scope is even wider. It includes training in supervision and management, which covers theories, skills and practice. There are management games and leadership camps.

Apart from induction training, the department also offers a range of on-the-job training programmes for staff. 'We hope to enable our talent to keep moving with the times,' Mr Lee said.

The courses cover various areas, including leadership and management. Apart from local training, staff are also sent to the mainland for courses and study visits. In addition, there are exchange training programmes with South Korea, France and Singapore.

On promotion prospects, an IO could rise through a series of ranks to eventually become the Director of Immigration. An IA could be promoted to ranks such as senior immigration assistant and chief immigration assistant.

'We pay a great deal of attention to job rotation. An IO will work in three posts in the first five years. After that, there is usually a posting every three to four years. For IAs, their duties cover guarding, searching, escorting, raiding and arresting. There is job rotation within these scopes,' Mr Lee said.