Applicants to live on handouts as agencies drag their heels

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 November, 2009, 12:00am

A new law prohibits anyone who enters the city without a valid travel document from taking employment or setting up or joining a business. Offenders face a maximum prison term of three years and a fine of HK$50,000.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said it would help stop criminal elements from bringing in illegal immigrants to work in the city. He said this would help safeguard job opportunities for local residents.

Since a legal decision revealed a loophole that made it possible for amnesty seekers to work, law enforcement agencies have intercepted a monthly average of 135 illegal immigrants.

The figure is more than three times the average in January and February, Lee said. He claimed the situation was worsening - 160 were intercepted last month.

But Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said the latest move was not a long-term solution. She said the Immigration Department had to expedite the cases on its hands.

'What will happen is that the applicants will appeal the decisions or seek another judicial review, and these applications will just continue to rack up without ever being resolved,' she said.

'Surely the expense involved in that is even more costly than having properly trained lawyers deal with the applications in the first place.'

The department claims to be formulating new procedures for dealing with amnesty applicants who claim to have been tortured, in accordance with the Convention against Torture.

But the government says it cannot do anything to expedite requests for amnesty that do not involve torture because these are handled by the Hong Kong branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.