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Hong Kong Immigration bungles Spanish test, deports visitor

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 8:00pm

A friend of mine from Latin America, holding a passport that does not require a visa before arriving, was recently denied entry to Hong Kong.

My friend speaks poor English, and the immigration officials who questioned him spoke no Spanish nor showed any understanding of the surnaming conventions of most Latinos. I challenged the senior immigration official in charge of his case to seek the services of a translator to make sure that the questions asked and the answers given were clear; his response was to tell me that immigration officials use Google Translate in circumstances such as this.

Spanish is not an obscure language – after Chinese, it is the most commonly spoken first language in the world. It is also one of the official languages of the United Nations. Most serious “international” cities in the world would either have Spanish speakers on staff or have access to one when needed.

Google Translate might be an acceptable tool for producing a first draft translation of a business or academic document, but it is completely useless when asking and answering personal questions, the accuracy and nuances of which can mean the difference between entry or deportation. My friend was deported.

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What other serious world city, that relies on tourism and needs a flow of overseas visitors to drive its international commerce, relies on Google Translate to process those visitors?

Why does the Immigration Department have no access to Spanish translators? How many people are being wrongly deported because of this?

What is the point of talking about how long-range aircraft can connect Hong Kong with Latin America, if this is the way people are going to be treated when they arrive in “Asia’s world city”?

Lee Faulkner, Lamma