Immigration law amendment won’t ban Hongkongers from leaving, Sonny Au reassured the public

A law amendment to ban specific passengers from boarding planes targets incoming flights only, said Undersecretary for Security Sonny Au Chi-kwong as he reassured the public that Hongkongers leaving the city will not be affected.

Au made the clarification on a radio program today, while exiled opposition activist Ted Hui Chi-kwong raised the issue during a Canadian parliamentary meeting, warning that the amendment could hinder dissidents from fleeing the city.

If passed, the Immigration Amendment Bill 2020 would allow the Secretary for Security to order that a passenger “may or may not be carried on board the carrier”, and to make regulations about collecting information of the carrier and its passengers.

Gazetted in December last year, the bill is now under discussion at Legislative Council. Its bills committee will have its third meeting in early March.

But the Hong Kong Bar Association has expressed concerns that the bill could violate citizens’ freedom of exit and entry guaranteed by the Basic Law, and authorities might be granted with unrestricted power.

Au today said that the amendment will only apply to those entering the SAR and will not influence citizens leaving home.

“It makes no logical sense [for the Immigration Department to ban people from leaving Hong Kong],” he added. “[The bill] is always about entry from foreign countries, never about exit.”

Au also said the amendment aims to suppress the abuse of non-refoulement claims — Hong Kong’s version of asylum applications, which the government has spent HK$1 billion every year to handle.

The bill will be subject to legal challenge if it is considered disproportionate to the freedom of travel endowed by the Basic Law, according to Au.

Meanwhile, former lawmaker Ted Hui warned that the amendment could be used to strand the city’s protesters, as he spoke today at a meeting at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration of Canadian House of Commons.

“This piece of law is expected to be passed in our legislature, which is now without any opposition in two or three months. In extreme cases, the regime can bar those who applied for Canadian work visa or permanent residency from leaving Hong Kong,” Hui said.

He called upon foreign countries to speed up in offering more pathways to a safe haven for dissident Hongkongers, adding: “[They] must be launched fairly soon.”

Hui also urged Canada to lower the requirements of its open work permit scheme for Hongkongers, which is available to a Hongkonger who has graduated with a postsecondary degree or diploma that is equivalent to Canadian qualifications, in the past five years. The scheme officially opened last Monday.

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