Immigration hit list forgets local parallel-goods traders

Immigration department says it has no right to regulate entry and exit of permanent residents

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 4:25am

The immigration chief has revealed for the first time that the department's list of suspected parallel-goods traders does not feature any Hong Kong people, despite them accounting for the bulk of such activity.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok had earlier said 60 per cent of all parallel-goods traders were local residents, while the rest were mainlanders.

But director of Immigration Eric Chan Kwok-ki said all the names identified were visitors to the city, and refused to give the size of the list for security reasons.

"Breach of stay is not applicable to Hong Kong people. So the list is all visitors … The mainland has a law to regulate Hong Kong people engaged in the parallel-goods trading business.

"We have no rights to regulate the entry and exit of permanent residents," he said.

The department arrested nearly 600 mainland parallel-goods traders and 10 local employers between September and January. Only 92 mainlanders were prosecuted. Chan said the low prosecution rate was due to the high standard of proof of employment required in court.

The department rejected the entry of 2,400 suspected traders.

Hong Kong saw 48.6 million visitors last year - a 16 per cent rise - of which 34.7 million were mainlanders, up 24 per cent.

Meanwhile, the department will swap a 50-year tradition of stamping passports for a system of handing out computer-generated slips at all border points.

The change, which takes effect next month, is aimed at improving efficiency and preventing mistakes.

The new HK$30 million system will save each visitor, on average, three seconds at the border when entering the city, said the assistant immigration director for information systems Corrado Chow.

"Three seconds may seem very short. But considering there were 47 million visitors last year … [much] time will be saved," he said.

Under the current system, officers must stamp two to three chops on average in each visitor's passport, which increases the possibility of making mistakes, Chan said.

The department has yet to decide what to do with the old chops after the scheme is implemented.