Eleven people and a 'snakehead' have been arrested in a Lowu hotel for allegedly planning to pass illegally through Hong Kong to destinations in Europe.
Each paid a fee of between 80,000 and 130,000 yuan for passage to their destinations, the Guangzhou-based Information Times reported.
The arrests were conducted in a joint operation carried out by Shenzhen border police and their counterparts from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.
A Wenzhou official said Hong Kong was a channel commonly used by the city's 'illegal emigrants', or people who cannot obtain visas.
'They board a flight in Hong Kong and go to their destinations via a third place like Africa and Mexico,' he said. The official said those going to the United States were willing to pay as much as US$50,000.
A visa official at the French consulate-general in Guangzhou said that despite attracting many illegal immigrants from Wenzhou, France had not restricted the number of visas issued to mainlanders.
In fact, visa approvals increased from 12,800 in 2000, to 17,500 in 2001, 23,500 last year and 23,800 in the first 10 months of this year.
An official at the Japanese consulate-general said it had received many visa applications from students and was not trying to restrict visas for Chinese nationals, although it faced problems with overstayers.
'We want to expand the number of students going to Japan and raise the quality as well,' he said.
Last night a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Security Bureau said the problem of illegal immigrants was under control.
She said officials had contained the problem of illegal immigrants over the years, with the number of people sneaking into Hong Kong dropping from a daily average of 100 in 1993 to 15 last year.