Illegal immigrants can be jailed for working

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am

The Legislative Council has passed a law that makes it a criminal offence for illegal immigrants to work in Hong Kong.

Under the amended legislation, which will take effect on Saturday, people who enter the city without valid travel documents will be prohibited from taking employment or setting up or joining businesses. Offenders will face a maximum jail term of three years and a fine of HK$50,000.

Moving the bill yesterday, Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said it would help stop snakeheads spreading rumours that illegal immigrants could work in the city after making torture claims, and help safeguard job opportunities for local residents.

The government proposed the amendment in response to a surge in the number of illegal immigrants, mostly from South Asia, since a court ruling in March.

The Court of First Instance ruled that asylum seekers were not breaking the law when taking work in Hong Kong.

Law-enforcement agencies intercepted a monthly average of 135 illegal immigrants between March and September, more than three times the average in January and February.

And the situation was worsening, Lee said, with 160 intercepted last month.

Despite passing the new law, some legislators said it would not completely resolve the situation and the root of the problem was the lack of certainty in the government's asylum policy.

Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said: 'What will happen is that the applicants will appeal the decisions, or seek another judicial review, and these applications will just continue to rack up without ever being resolved. Surely the expense involved in that is even more costly than having properly trained lawyers deal with the applications in the first place.'

The administration is formulating new procedures for dealing with applications under the Convention against Torture, which prevents the government from returning people to their home countries if there is a risk they will be subjected to torture. However, people claiming to be refugees are not dealt with by the government, but by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Lee said the government would speed up the application process for asylum seekers.