Keeping unwanted people away from Hong Kong

Recent BOb intern, Scott Tang, visiting from Hong Kong University, completed a research project on deportations and removals from Hong Kong. Scott wrote the news story below on his research findings.

Hong Kong is a vibrant metropolitan city that is also considered a great tourist destination. It attracts tens of millions people traveling to Hong Kong for visits and business every year. In 2014, there were more than 60 million visitors from overseas[i]. Having long been a regional hub of people movement, as well as maintaining a boundary with mainland China, immigration officials in Hong Kong are missioned to exercise effective border control in facilitating the visits of genuine travelers, as well as managing those who are refused entry[ii].

Recent refusal of entry facts and figures

The Immigration Department of Hong Kong has not provided detail on the actual reason behind the numbers of those who are refused entry into Hong Kong. Instead, the Department explained that in 2014, nearly 90 percent of those refused entry was based on a doubt surrounding the visiting purpose of the arrivals while the remaining 10 per cent were refused entry because of an improper or forged travel document (including those coming to Hong Kong without valid visa) . From the 2013 and 2014 Immigration Department annual reports, the Department claimed to have refused 37,105[iii] and 42,177[iv] passengers respectively from entering into Hong Kong. The refusal rate was around 0.07% in both years. Among those being refused, more than 80 percent were mainland Chinese while another 14 percent were Asian-Pacific nationals[v] . Most of the travellers refused entry include the categories of parallel traders and Chinese pregnant women. Both group of travellers have been the object of legislation aimed at curtailing their number as a result of public opinion opposing their entry [vi] .

YearVisitors/Seamen Refused Entry
2014 42,177
2013 37,105
2012 29,792
2011 23,876
2010 28,564
2009 31,445
2008 38,324
2007 39,508
2006 42,249
2005 39,874
2004 28,284
2003 27,655
2002 21,221
2001 21,286
2000 20,791

Sources: Hong Kong Year Book 2000 – 2014

Removal policy and practice

An information paper by the Hong Kong Security Bureau, outlines the different policies and practices in making summary removal, removal under a removal order, and deportation under a deportation order[vii]. The three handling methods are served to people of different status and reasons of removal or deportation according to the stipulated legal powers in the Immigration Ordinance. Simply, a summary removal is a simple and rapid reaction for sending out people. It is an immediate action in many immigration control points and offices against is an efficient execution for sending out irregular immigrants intercepted as well as travellers who are refused entry upon arrival at control points. A removal order will be made against irregular immigrants as well as refused travellers who may not be removed using a summary removal after the expiry of two months from the date on which they arrived. On the other hand, a deportation order is used against any person (who does not enjoy a Right of Abode in Hong Kong) if they have been found guilty in Hong Kong of an offence punishable with imprisonment for not less than two years.

People facing a removal order from the Hong Kong Government are usually those who have overstayed and remained in Hong Kong without proper approval from the Immigration Department while some others are undocumented migrants and travellers who entered Hong Kong unlawfully. As a general note, the Immigration Department differentiates between “overstayers” and “illegal immigrants”, namely those who entered Hong Kong unlawfully, or illegally. Some may have breached their conditions of stay in Hong Kong, such as taking up employment without approval from the Immigration Department. It is noteworthy that the numbers of removals jumped to 6,526 in 2002 from around 1,300 in 2001 and 1,500 in 2003. According to the officials, this sudden jump in numbers was attributable to the numbers of unsuccessful claimants who sought the right of abode in Hong Kong during those years. Some batch issuance of removal orders was issued against thousands of mainland abode seekers who remained in Hong Kong illegally after the expiry of court’s time allowance for voluntary departure in 2002[viii].

YearIrregular immigrationBreaching conditions of stayTotal

Sources: Hong Kong Year Book 2000 – 2014

According to the Hong Kong laws, overseas nationals and non-permanent residents who have been convicted of offences such as possessing drugs or drug trafficking, deception, theft, forgery and other criminal activities are subject to be deported. The officials do not publish any breakdown of the nationalities and the offences associated deportation orders. All that is available is the number of deportation orders executed. The number of people being considered to make a deportation order has long been kept at six to eight thousand from 1999 to 2013. However, the number sharply decreased to 441 in 2014[ix]. The Department has not provided this information as to why this is, however it is believed to attribute to the ruling by Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong in 2013 to the ruling in “C & Ors v the Director of Immigration and Another”, according to which immigration authorities were told they should assess refugee claims independently, that is whether a person has an established a well-founded fear of persecution before being subjected to removal or deportation[x].

YearConsideration for DeportationDeportation Order executed
2014 441 350
2013 7,579 581
2012 7,426 617
2011 7,295 637
2010 6,744 642
2009 7,456 622
2008 7,363 695
2007 7,958 727
2006 8,032 485
2005 7,691 551
2004 7,599 608
2003 7,193 582
2002 7,139 620
2001 8,184 705
2000 6,963 540

Sources: Hong Kong Year Book 2000 – 2014

Even though the immigration officials and government have presented their deportation and removal figures in publications, we still know very little from the numeric values especially the lack of information on nationality and breakdown of the exact offense that the deportee committed. What is striking from the data presented here is that as the numbers of travellers to Hong Kong increases, so does the number of entry refusals. Whilst this is obvious, the Hong Kong authorities do not link the two categories which brings into question, their effort to fully understand why there are increasing numbers of people seeking asylum despite their use of the criminal justice system and welfare as a combined deterrent.


[i] Annual Report 2014, Immigration Department, Government of HKSAR

[ii] Mission of Hong Kong Immigration Department, Government of HKSAR

[iii] Chapter 15 – Public Order, Hong Kong Year Book 2013, Government of HKSAR

[iv] Chapter 15 – Public Order, Hong Kong Year Book 2014, Government of HKSAR

[v] Question Serial No. 2312, Replies to initial written questions raised by Finance Committee Members in examining the Estimates of Expenditure 2015-16, Legislative Council, Hong Kong

[vi] Question Serial No. 1811, Replies to initial written questions raised by Finance Committee Members in examining the Estimates of Expenditure 2015-16, Legislative Council, Hong Kong

[vii] Policy and practice on removal and deportation, Security Bureau, Government of HKSAR

[viii] Migration News Volume 9, May 2002

University of California, Davis, California 95616 USA

[ix] Hong Kong Year Book 2000 – 2014, Government of HKSAR

[x] Practice and Procedural Guide of the Administrative Non-refoulement Claims Petition Scheme, Security Bureau, Government of Hong Kong