A pro-democracy lawmaker has said that Hong Kong authorities should extend the notice period for marriage in order to help investigate cases of suspected fraud.
Lawmaker Gary Fan of the Neo Democrats party said on Monday that there have been cases of suspected sham marriages involving immigrants entering Hong Kong from Mainland China.
He said they entered Hong Kong under a scheme that enables family reunion. As it stands, all one-way permits issued to mainland Chinese immigrants cannot be vetted by Hong Kong authorities.
A new research report published by the Legislative Council Secretariat and commissioned by Fan studied immigration policies of the UK and Australia. It said the two countries have in recent years been tightening policies so as to offset the number of immigrants gaining citizenship via sham marriages.
The report said British authorities had extended the notice period for marriage to 28 days. For suspicious cases, that period can be raised to 70 days. In Australia, the act of faking a marriage has been turned into a criminal offence.
The two countries have used various strategies to investigate bogus identities. These include using an online identity verification platform with which to tackle work-related fraud, alongside setting up a team dedicated to tackling organised crime.
Fan said that Hong Kong has a much shorter notice period for marriage and that it has no regulation for intermediary immigration advisors.
“Hong Kong can learn a lot from these strategies,” he said. “If marriage registration officers have reasonable doubts over a proposed marriage involving mainland people in Hong Kong, we can extend the period before the officers issue a marriage certificate. This can allow law enforcement more time to investigate cases.”
“The government should also investigate whether one-way permit holders have overseas assets when they apply for social welfare and public housing,” Fan added.
Fan said his party did not want to prevent family reunion. He said there had been cases of families who had to wait for an unreasonably long time before they could be reunited in Hong Kong. They were forced to bribe mainland officials to speed up the process.
“We can only speed up family reunions when we start combatting bogus marriages and false documents,” he said.
He said many immigrants were almost of retirement age when they moved to Hong Kong: “Their positive influence on Hong Kong’s workforce was not as positive as the government described,” he said.
His party suggested that the quota for one-way permit schemes should be reduced to 75 per day. It also suggested that a point system should be introduced to a select number of immigrants who can afford to maintain a basic standard of living here.
There are various one-permit schemes through which a mainland Chinese individual can come to Hong Kong.
Former lawmaker Edward Yiu, also an academic in geography, said the number of mainland immigrants who enter Hong Kong via schemes other than one-way permit scheme has risen steadily from 1,360 in 2003 to 23,754 in 2017.
“It has harmed Hong Kong’s status as an international city,” Yiu said.
Yiu said that in 2016, the Immigration Department had launched investigations into nine cases in which intermediary immigration advisors had been suspected of having submitted false information on behalf of applicants under the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals.
Two of the nine cases were rejected, and the remaining cases were retracted or terminated owing to insufficient information. Criminal investigations were ongoing.
The Department also launched investigations into 12 cases under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme between 2014 and 2018, and the 12 cases have all been terminated. Criminal investigations into nine of the 12 cases were ongoing.
“These schemes all have different levels of suspected frauds,” Yiu said.