New team to carry out undercover patrols and snap raids around the clock A special squad of experienced Immigration Department officers has been set up to catch illegal workers around the clock. A senior official even went as far as saying it was hoped the Anti-Illegal Workers Combat Squad would be able to conduct raids within 30 minutes of receiving intelligence. The 18-strong squad, chosen from across the department, will also conduct undercover patrols at sites where illegal workers often gather. 'In the past, because of the restraints of manpower, we had to launch joint raids with other departments,' Director of Immigration Lai Tung-kwok said yesterday. 'But with the redeployment of officers, we can be more proactive and [launch raids] in the morning or in the middle of the night. 'Flexibility will be increased ... and the benefit will be that raids will be difficult to defend against as they won't know when we'll strike.' The strike force was established after the department secured enough money to hire an extra 161 people last year. The new recruits have also enabled the establishment of an 88-strong tactical squad to take part in larger raids, but unlike the specialist squad members, the tactical unit will also carry out everyday work at border checkpoints. The change in tactics over illegal employment came after the department launched more raids last year but made fewer arrests. There were 7,659 raids last year, compared with 5,739 in 2003, but the number of people arrested fell from 16,548 to 15,727. Among those arrested last year, 10,092 were held for prostitution, while the majority of the remainder worked in the construction or catering industries. A 30 per cent rise in the number of tip-offs last year over 2003 contributed to the increase in raids, but the department believes the decline in the number of arrests was a result of illegal workers becoming more adept at avoiding capture. 'There are now fewer cases where illegal workers live together en masse or in organised ways,' said David Chiu Wai-kai, the assistant director of immigration responsible for enforcement. 'It means we are catching scattered illegal workers and, therefore, the number of arrests fell.' But as the economy improves and more jobs become available this year, the department predicts illegal employment could become more of a problem. Mr Lai reminded employers that anyone found guilty of hiring illegal workers would face immediate imprisonment under new sentencing guidelines laid down by the High Court last September.