Asylum abuse spurs review of visa policy

Top News | Yupina Ng 2 Feb 2016

The Immigration Department is considering a review of its visa-free policy for countries where many asylum seekers come from, such as India, and introducing pre-arrival background checks.

The department received 9,687 claims last year, with arrivals coming from India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

This brought the total number of claims pending to 10,922 since the Unified Screening Mechanism was set up in March 2014 to screen non-refoulement claims on all applicable grounds in one go. About 3,165 claims were approved for screening last year, of which 18 were substantiated.

Director of Immigration Chan Kwok- ki said yesterday the department will establish a new position of assistant director in order to review the screening mechanism.

"We have noticed that the mechanism has been abused, so we will consider introducing pre-arrival background checks for people from the major source countries," Chan said.

Chan said the growing number of illegal immigrants has contributed to the abuse.

A Legco document showed that claims lodged by non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants increased to 440 per month between March 2014 and December 2015, from 102 per month on average between 2010 and 2013.

"Our cases also show that the claimants usually raise their claims only after they are arrested, while some other claimants' attitudes are far from cooperative and they try to delay the deliberation progress," Chan said.

When asked how people from visa- free countries such as India could be checked before they fly to Hong Kong, Chan said: "Any visa policy can be reviewed. A visa-free today does not mean forever."

He added: "Not only India, for the department is also considering to implement such background checks on other South Asian counties."

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said he "cautiously welcomed" the review because such background checks could shut the door on real and potential asylum seekers.

"It's hard to verify if the government is doing it for the own good of real asylum seekers or it actually doesn't want to deal with any asylum seekers," Law said. "The screening in Hong Kong is far more strict than [other] counties."

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