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14 persons arrested during anti-illegal worker operations in Hong Kong

14 persons arrested during anti-illegal worker operations

HONG KONG — In a series of operations aimed at combating illegal workers, the Immigration Department (ImmD) of Hong Kong launched four consecutive days of raids from February 19 to February 22. The operations, codenamed “Twilight,” targeted illegal workers throughout the territory, while joint operations with the Hong Kong Police Force, codenamed “Champion” and “Windsand,” were also carried out. As a result of these operations, 12 suspected illegal workers and two suspected employers were apprehended.

During the crackdown, ImmD Task Force officers conducted raids on 15 different locations, including bars, guest houses, premises under renovation, restaurants, and retail shops. Nine suspected illegal workers and two suspected employers were arrested during these operations. The nine apprehended illegal workers were all women, aged between 28 and 54. Shockingly, seven of these women were found to be holders of recognisance forms, which explicitly prohibit them from engaging in any form of employment. Furthermore, one woman was suspected of possessing and using a forged Hong Kong identity card.

In a separate operation known as “Champion,” enforcement officers targeted 40 locations in the Western district. Three male illegal workers, aged between 26 and 55, were apprehended during this operation.

The ImmD spokesperson emphasized the gravity of contravening conditions of stay and taking unauthorized employment in Hong Kong. Violators face prosecution and, upon conviction, can be sentenced to a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to two years’ imprisonment. The spokesperson also warned that aiding and abetting such offenses can result in prosecution and penalties.

The spokesperson further highlighted the provisions of section 38AA of the Immigration Ordinance, which prohibit illegal immigrants, individuals subject to removal or deportation orders, overstayers, and those refused permission to land from engaging in any form of employment or establishing or joining a business. Offenders found guilty under this section face a maximum fine of $50,000 and up to three years’ imprisonment. Additionally, the possession or use of forged Hong Kong identity cards or those belonging to others is also an offense, carrying a maximum penalty of $100,000 in fines and up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The spokesperson reiterated the seriousness of employing individuals who are not lawfully employable. According to the Immigration Ordinance, the maximum penalty for employers who hire illegal workers has been significantly increased from a fine of $350,000 and three years’ imprisonment to a fine of $500,000 and 10 years’ imprisonment, in order to reflect the gravity of the offense. Furthermore, directors, managers, secretaries, partners, and other involved personnel may also face criminal liability. The High Court has established sentencing guidelines, recommending immediate custodial sentences for employers found guilty of employing illegal workers.

According to court sentencing, employers are required to take all necessary steps to verify the lawful employability of potential employees before hiring them. This includes inspecting their identity cards and making inquiries to ensure their eligibility. Failure to do so cannot be used as a defense in legal proceedings. Employers are also obligated to inspect the valid travel documents of job seekers who do not possess a Hong Kong permanent identity card. Failing to comply with these obligations can result in a maximum fine of $150,000 and one year of imprisonment. The spokesperson urged all employers to abide by the law and refrain from employing illegal workers, emphasizing that the ImmD will continue to take strong enforcement action against such offenses.

As part of its existing mechanism, the ImmD conducts an initial screening of vulnerable individuals, including illegal workers, illegal immigrants, sex workers, and foreign domestic helpers, who are arrested during operations. This screening aims to identify potential victims of trafficking in persons (TIP). If any TIP indicators are discovered, ImmD officers proceed with a comprehensive debriefing and identification process using a standardized checklist to determine the presence of TIP elements, such as recruitment-related threats and coercion, as well as the nature of exploitation. Victims identified as TIP victims receive various forms of support and assistance, including urgent intervention, medical services, counseling, shelter or temporary accommodation, and other supporting services. The ImmD encourages TIP victims to report crimes to the relevant authorities immediately.

The recent operations conducted by the Immigration Department underscore the government’s commitment to maintaining law and order and addressing the issue of illegal workers in Hong Kong. With an increased focus on enforcement and stricter penalties for offenders, the authorities aim to create a strong deterrent against illegal employment practices and protect the rights and opportunities of legal workers.