Barcode readers help pupils get through border checkpoints quicker

Schoolchildren will be able to pass through checkpoints quicker with new technology designed to simplify clearance procedures

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 2:50am

Kindergarten and primary school pupils who live in Shenzhen but attend Hong Kong schools will be able to cross the border quicker, thanks to new technology at the checkpoints.

Handheld barcode readers will be used at several border points next month.

Introducing the new system yesterday at Lok Ma Chau checkpoint, the Immigration Department said the barcode readers were designed to simplify clearance procedures for pupils aged under 11.

Initially about 50 of the handheld devices will be used at five border checkpoints, including Lok Ma Chau and Man Kam To.

While all those entitled to travel freely to Hong Kong can hold cross-border permits, only those over 11 are entitled to hold Hong Kong ID cards, which allow automated entry.

With the help of the new technology, the government aims to reduce the pressure caused by an increasing number of schoolchildren who use these checkpoints every day.

The total number of cross-border pupils is expected to rise to 17,000 in the 2012/13 school year, up from 12,865 last year. Most of these children are from Hong Kong families who live on the mainland.

To use the new system, pupils have to preregister with the Immigration Department through their schools.

They will then be issued with a barcode, that includes their photo, to stick on their cross-border permit.

When they enter Hong Kong they simply tap the barcode on an identification device held by an immigration officer, then pass through immigration control. "When they tap [the barcode] on the device, their updated information and photos can be read instantly by officers," said Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, an assistant director of the department.

The devices would also allow officers to get on school buses at three of the five checkpoints to help pupils complete clearance procedures.

At present, cross-border pupils use re-entry permits - which are replaced every five years - to pass through the immigration checkpoints.

Using the new procedure it takes only six to seven seconds for each pupil to complete clearance procedures - about five seconds faster than the existing method of examining re-entry permits.

Tsang said the method would speed up procedures because a pupil's photo on the barcode would be replaced every year for easier identification.

So far, about 1,600 have registered with the department, but it expects more will join the scheme when school resumes next month.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made a visit to the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint yesterday and used the occasion to comment on recent developments on the immigration front.

He said efforts to bar pregnant mainlanders from giving birth in Hong Kong had so far been successful, with recent figures showing only a few women "gatecrashing the border".

Leung also said more work needed to be done at a legal level to deal with the root of the problem. He reiterated that the government would try to avoid seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law.