The problem of illegal workers will continue despite the global financial meltdown, an immigration official said. Assistant director for enforcement and litigation Eric Chan Kwok-ki said that illegal workers from South Asia were a problem in Hong Kong, but mainlanders comprised a large proportion of the illegal workforce. The department seized 564 fake Hong Kong identity cards last year, up 33.9 per cent from 421 in 2007. Of the cards seized last year, 544 were smart identity cards. Mr Chan said most forged identity cards were not used to cross the border but to find jobs. 'The bogus identity cards were mostly used by mainland illegal workers to try to prove their identity to their employers and avoid detection by immigration officers,' he said. Mr Chan said the seized cards did not have the same security features and officers could easily spot them as fakes. But Mr Chan was more concerned about the rising number of South Asians working illegally, as seen from the increase in torture claims. The department received 2,198 claims last year under the Convention Against Torture, up 39 per cent compared with 1,583 cases in 2007. There had been 202 applications this January. The majority of claimants came from South Asian and African countries. 'We have a responsibility to care of those who are actually under threat. But we must be on the lookout for those who take advantage of the claims to extend their stay in Hong Kong [for other purposes],' he said. Mr Chan said the department had put more resources and manpower into tackling the problem of South Asian illegal workers. The department arrested 6,141 suspected illegal workers and 855 employers last year, against 6,399 workers and 399 employers in 2007.