Immigration Department launches territory-wide operations to combat illegal workers

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8th December 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Immigration Department (ImmD) recently conducted a series of operations across the territory. Codenamed “Fastrack,” “Lightshadow,” and “Twilight,” these operations, along with joint efforts with the Hong Kong Police Force under the code name “Windsand,” were carried out over a four-day period from December 4 to December 7. The operations resulted in the arrest of 24 suspected illegal workers, four suspected employers, and one individual suspected of aiding and abetting.

During the extensive operations, ImmD Task Force officers targeted 56 locations, including industrial buildings, massage parlours, premises under renovation, recycling yards, residential buildings, and restaurants. As a result, 21 suspected illegal workers, four suspected employers, and one individual suspected of aiding and abetting were apprehended. The arrested individuals included five men and 16 women, aged between 27 and 54. Notably, two men and four women were found to be in possession of recognisance forms, which prohibit them from engaging in any form of employment. Additionally, three men and one woman, aged between 46 and 57, were suspected of employing illegal workers and were also arrested. Furthermore, a 39-year-old woman suspected of aiding and abetting a person who violated the conditions of their stay in Hong Kong was taken into custody.

In a related operation codenamed “Windsand,” authorities arrested two men and one woman from mainland China, aged between 39 and 56, for breaching their conditions of stay. These individuals were involved in suspected parallel trading activities in the Sheung Shui district, specifically at Po Wan Road and San Wan Road. The goods involved in the illegal activities primarily included cosmetics products, daily necessities, and health care products.

An ImmD spokesperson emphasized that contravening the conditions of stay in Hong Kong is considered a serious offence. Visitors are strictly prohibited from engaging in any form of employment, whether paid or unpaid, without prior permission from the Director of Immigration. Violators are subject to prosecution and, if convicted, may face a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to two years’ imprisonment. The spokesperson further stressed that aiding and abetting such offences also carries legal consequences.

The spokesperson issued a stern warning, citing section 38AA of the Immigration Ordinance, which prohibits illegal immigrants, individuals subject to removal or deportation orders, overstayers, or those refused permission to land from seeking employment or establishing/joining any business. Offenders convicted under this provision could face a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to three years’ imprisonment.

It was reiterated that employing individuals who are not lawfully employable is a grave offence. Under the Immigration Ordinance, the penalty for employers who hire illegal workers has been significantly increased. Previously, the maximum penalty was a fine of $350,000 and three years’ imprisonment, but it has now been raised to a fine of $500,000 and 10 years’ imprisonment to reflect the severity of such offences. Moreover, directors, managers, secretaries, partners, and other relevant individuals within a company may also face criminal liability. The High Court has established guidelines stipulating that employers of illegal workers should receive immediate custodial sentences.

According to court sentencing guidelines, employers are required to take all practical measures to ascertain the lawful employability of individuals before hiring them. Apart from inspecting a prospective employee’s identity card, employers have a duty to make necessary inquiries and ensure that the responses do not raise any reasonable doubts regarding the person’s eligibility for employment. Failure to do so will not be accepted as a defence in legal proceedings. Additionally, it is an offence for an employer to neglect inspecting a job seeker’s valid travel document if the job seeker does not possess a Hong Kong permanent identity card. Offenders face a maximum fine of $150,000 and imprisonment for one year upon conviction. The spokesperson strongly urged all employers to comply with the law and refrain from employing illegal workers.