Hong Kong government cracks down on illegal workers, penalties and enforcement operations revealed

Chris Tang

29th November 2023 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong government is intensifying its efforts to combat illegal employment and protect job opportunities for local workers. In response to a question posed by the Honourable Stanley Ng in the Legislative Council, Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung provided detailed information on the government’s crackdown on illegal workers and the measures taken to address the issue.

Over the past five years, the Immigration Department (ImmD) has prosecuted a significant number of illegal workers and employers involved in illegal employment. The statistics reveal a steady enforcement effort by the government. In 2023 alone (January to October), 747 illegal workers and 95 employers have been prosecuted. The court has imposed penalties that include imprisonment and fines on the convicted individuals. Illegal workers have received prison sentences ranging from 10 days to 40 months, while employers have been sentenced to imprisonment ranging from seven days to nine months. Fines for illegal workers range from $1,000 to $30,000, and employers face fines ranging from $1,000 to $400,000.

To tackle the issue head-on, the government has conducted numerous crackdown operations against illegal workers. From 2018 to 2023 (January to October), a total of 90,386 operations were carried out by the ImmD, including joint operations with the Hong Kong Police Force. Additionally, the Police conducted 713 independent operations during the same period. The government has been flexible in deploying manpower for these operations, ensuring they are intelligence-led and effective. However, specific details about the number of personnel deployed in each operation are not disclosed.

The introduction of the Enhanced Supplementary Labour Scheme (ESLS) has played a role in alleviating manpower shortages in various sectors. The ESLS, launched by the Labour Department on 4th September, 2023, enhances the coverage and operation of the Supplementary Labour Scheme (SLS). It temporarily suspends the exclusion of 26 job categories and unskilled/low-skilled posts from the SLS for two years. Employers found in violation of relevant labour or immigration laws, the Standard Employment Contract, or ESLS requirements may face administrative sanctions, such as withdrawal of worker import approval and debarment from participating in the ESLS for up to two years. Notably, no administrative sanction cases related to immigration law breaches by employers have been reported since the launch of the ESLS.

The ImmD and the Police remain vigilant in their efforts to combat illegal employment. The ImmD has conducted an average of nearly 1,500 operations against illegal employment each month from January to October 2023, representing a 10% increase compared to previous years. The Police closely monitor illegal worker-related offences, enhance intelligence collection, conduct inspections at high-risk locations, and collaborate with relevant government departments in joint enforcement operations. Notable joint operations include “Champion” and “Powerplayer” conducted with the ImmD and the Labour Department.