Mainlanders who come to Hong Kong to steal or work as prostitutes will be banned from returning to the region for up to five years in a tough new move against cross-border crime. The step - announced by Police Commissioner Tsang Yam-pui after a meeting yesterday with the mainland's Assistant Public Security Minister Zhu Entao - follows a steep rise in crimes by mainlanders in Hong Kong. The number of mainland visitors arrested rose by 52.2 per cent to 1,303 in the first nine months of this year, from 856 in the same period last year. In 2000, the figure was 721. Mr Tsang said: 'The number of visitors from the mainland has also increased by 50 per cent, so the situation cannot be described as too serious, but we believe that something can be done to improve the situation. 'We've agreed on a system whereby mainland authorities can use their discretion to stop some of those people who have previously committed crimes in Hong Kong from coming to Hong Kong again. This ban could range from two to five years.' The Immigration Department said 1.64 million mainlanders on two-way visitors' permits came to Hong Kong between January and October. That figure compares to 1.16 million two-way permit holders in the whole of last year.