Equal Opportunities Commission


Investigation Reports

Study Report on the Procedures and Training Needs of the Immigration Department in Handling Persons with Disabilities

Executive Summary

The Equal Opportunities Commission Study Report
on the Procedures and Training Needs of the Immigration Department
in Handling Persons with Disabilities

Executive Summary


1. In August 2000, a 15-year-old autistic boy (“Man Hon”) slipped through the Lo Wu Control Point of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (“HKSAR”). He was later intercepted by the mainland authorities and returned to the Lo Wu Control Point. Man Hon, who carried no documents of identity, was detained for two hours by the Immigration Department of the HKSAR Government (“the Department”) and then sent to Shenzhen on the mistaken belief that he was a mainlander. Man Hon has been missing ever since.

2. On the initiative of the Equal Opportunities Commission (“the EOC”) the Secretary for Security invited the EOC to provide advice “to enhance the relevant internal guidelines and staff training” to the Department with the indication that, “Similar arrangements may also be extended to other disciplined departments as necessary.” At a joint meeting of the EOC and the Department held on 28 September 2000 it was agreed that the EOC would conduct a study of the procedures and training needs of the Department in handling persons with disabilities (“PWDs”).

3. The Man Hon incident raised widespread concern over whether law enforcement officers (“LEOs”) in Hong Kong have adequate knowledge and sensitivity in handling PWDs. The Department admitted, in its investigation report on the incident, published on 14 September 2000, that the officers concerned generally lacked awareness, sensitivity and knowledge in handling PWDs.

The Immigration Department and the Immigration Service

4. The Department carries out two major functions:

(a) providing services to the public in such matters as issuing travel documents and registering births, deaths and marriages (“the personal documentation and registration function”); and

(b) maintaining law and order in fighting immigration-related crimes and enforcing immigration control (“the law enforcement and control function”).

5. The functions of the Department are mainly carried out by members of the Immigration Service established under the Immigration Service Ordinance (“the Immigration Service Staff”).

Rights of PWDs and Duties of Government Departments

6. Rights of the PWDs are enshrined in a number of international instruments and protected in the HKSAR primarily under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (“the DDO”) and the Bill of Rights Ordinance (“the BORO”).

7. The DDO renders unlawful discrimination against persons on the ground of their disabilities and binds the Government. Disability is widely defined under the DDO and includes disabilities that are not well understood by the public. It also includes a disability that previously existed, may exist in future or is imputed to someone.

8. The DDO imposes vicarious liabilities on an employer for acts of its employees unless it can be shown that reasonably practicable steps have been taken to prevent the employees from doing such acts. Individual employees may also be personally liable for unlawful acts they have committed. The Government, as an employer, has an obligation to establish a reasonable framework to prevent the occurrence of unlawful acts and to provide guidance and support to its employees in complying with the law and in reasonably discharging their duties.

Objectives of the Study

9. This study is intended to assist the Department to enhance its sensitivity to disability issues, increase its capability to discharge its obligations to PWDs, effect sustainable changes and mainstream equal opportunities culture in the Department’s operations. Although the study was triggered by the Man Hon incident, it is a forward looking exercise and does not seek to establish liability of any individual or the Department.

10. The study examined the level of the Immigration Service Staff’s knowledge about disability and sensitivity towards PWDs; the experiences and expectations of PWDs; the adequacy of the Department’s internal procedures, guidelines and instructions and the Immigration Service Staff’s training needs. The study has also made recommendations for improvement.

Methods of Study

11. The study used the following methods:

(a) questionnaire surveys of Immigration Officers before and after the introductory sensitivity training (see para. 13 below), supplemented by a focus group meeting with 15 Immigration Officers,

(b) interviews and focus group meetings with PWDs,

(c) a questionnaire survey of professionals who have provided assistance to PWDs (“the helping professionals”), and

(d) a document review of the Department’s internal guidelines, instructions, procedures and training programmes, supplemented by a review of overseas practices, procedures and training programmes.

12. Throughout the study, there was regular dialogue between the project teams of the EOC and the Department.

Introductory Sensitivity Training

13. As an immediate measure, the EOC organised, at the beginning of the study, three half-day introductory training sessions (“the introductory sensitivity training”) for 270 Immigration Officers who are frontline supervisors, to enhance their sensitivity towards the special needs of PWDs.

Findings and Conclusions

Knowledge and Attitudes


14. In an unprompted situation less than one fifth of the Immigration Officers surveyed could name five or more types of disability. Only a few named chronic illness and language/communication difficulty (other than hearing impairment) as disabilities. However, in a prompted situation most officers were able to match the major disabilities with the respective key manifestations.

15. Most Immigration Officers surveyed had a correct understanding of the effect of some of the disabilities. By comparison, their understanding of people with intellectual disabilities was lower.

16. The Immigration Officers surveyed tended to indicate a more positive attitude when responding to statements of broad principles but less so when responding to statements of more specific situations.

17. Nearly half of the Immigration Officers surveyed reported that they had encountered difficulties when they came into contact with PWDs, mainly in communication.

18. About half of the Immigration Officers surveyed knew that family status discrimination was unlawful in Hong Kong. A majority of the Immigration Officers surveyed thought that race discrimination and age discrimination were unlawful. There is at present no specific race or age discrimination legislation in Hong Kong but the BORO generally prohibits all forms of discrimination and is binding upon the Government and public authorities.


19. To enhance the ability of the Immigration Service Staff to deal with PWDs, the following key areas must be addressed:

(a) the ability to identify and recognise disabilities and their characteristics, manifestations and special needs;

(b) removal of stereotypical assumptions on the part of the Immigration Service Staff regarding PWDs;

(c) inculcation of skills in handling PWDs with particular emphasis on communication skills;

(d) the legal, procedural and management framework on the handling of PWDs;

(e) systematic and continuous training and the importance for this to be evaluated under simulations of real conditions; and

(f) tracking of outcome of the core policy commitments to the small everyday decisions of implementation.

Sensitivity towards People with Disabilities


20. Through interviews and focus group meetings PWDs reported on their experience of contacts with LEOs of various law enforcement agencies in voluntary situations, such as applying for an identification document, and in involuntary situations, such as being stopped and questioned or arrested.

21. The following sensitivity concerns were indicated in the reports:

(a) LEOs addressing PWDs by their disability rather than as individuals,

(b) LEOs holding the view that persons with intellectual disabilities should be confined to their homes,

(c) LEOs reacting inappropriately to certain manifestations of intellectual disabilities out of lack of understanding of the disability,

(d) LEOs not appreciating the sense of insecurity that persons with mental illnesses or visual impairments might have when encountering LEOs, thus making inappropriate assumptions,

(e) LEOs assuming that, whenever PWDs requested flexibility in treatment, they were trying to take advantage of their disability for special treatment,

(f) LEOs not knowing the appropriate way to assist PWDs, such as persons with visual or hearing impairments, and

(g) LEOs performing body search on persons with visual impairments in insensitive ways.

22. Through a questionnaire survey, helping professionals provided information on their PWD clients’ experience in encounters with LEOs in voluntary and involuntary circumstances. Insofar as voluntary contacts with LEOs were concerned, about half of the helping professionals surveyed reported that their PWD clients’ experience was mostly positive, while less than 10% reported that their PWD clients’ experience was mostly negative. The reverse was true for involuntary contacts.

23. The helping professionals surveyed identified LEOs’ inadequate communication skills when handling PWDs as a major contributor to negative experiences in encounters, and suggested strengthening training of LEOs’ communication skills and the ability to identify and recognise PWDs and their disabilities as an important way to improve interactions between LEOs and PWDs.


24. The findings pointed to three important elements in giving PWDs a positive experience:

(a) LEOs should treat PWDs with respect. They should be recognised as persons and not identified by the disability and their right to full participation in community life should be respected.

(b) LEOs should remove prejudice against PWDs. They should not make any stereotypical assumptions about them and should appreciate that PWDs may have special needs, limitations, fears and difficulties in communication.

(c) LEOs should treat PWDs with sensitivity and understanding and offer appropriate assistance. This requires LEOs to be able to identify and recognise PWDs, understand their special needs, limitations, fears and difficulties in communication, and find the appropriate way to communicate with and offer assistance to them.

25. The study has revealed that, compared to voluntary situations, LEOs’ mindsets in involuntary situations are usually more negative. Yet, the basic rights of PWDs are more directly involved in such situations. Therefore, in involuntary situations in particular, LEOs should be even more sensitive to the characteristics, special needs, limitations, fears and difficulties in communication on the part of PWDs, and be mindful of the rights of PWDs to fair treatment and due process.

Service Guidelines and Special Needs Arrangements


Service Guidelines

26. The Department’s Guide on Conduct and Discipline (“the Guide”) contains the mission statement to provide services on a non-discriminatory basis. However, the Guide does not cover a number of grounds on which discrimination is rendered unlawful by specific ordinances or the general prohibition against discrimination under the BORO.

27. Service guidelines for Immigration Service Staff (“the Service Guidelines”) are provided in the Department’s internal standing orders (“the internal standing orders”) and the branch, divisional, sub-divisional, sectional instructions or notices (“the Instructions”), and the Rules and Directions for the Questioning of Suspects and the Taking of Statements (“the Rules”) issued by the Secretary for Security.

28. The Rules and the internal standing orders contain some guidelines on statement taking from suspects with hearing impairments and “mental disorders”. The Rules provide that such guidelines also apply to persons with the two disabilities who are not suspects, such as witnesses or victims. Unfortunately the cover title of the Rules does not reflect this and there is no index to go by.

29. The internal standing orders also stipulate that passengers who are minors, elderly or genuinely sick and who are refused permission to land at control points may not need to be detained.

30. The Instructions provide for the handling of witnesses or defendants, conducting identification parades of suspects and administration of medication to detainees with regard to certain types of disability and needs. These are mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities and medication needs. After the Man Hon incident the Department has issued internal instructions regarding the contact points established with the Social Welfare Department to provide professional assistance to the Immigration Service Staff.

31. In relation to the law enforcement and control function, the Service Guidelines do not provide comprehensive guidance regarding PWDs. Guidance on communicating with PWDs, on taking their fingerprints or on transporting and detaining them is not available.

32. Separately, there are internal instructions dealing with some functions which make no specific reference to PWDs but which have implications for PWDs, such as those dealing with the handling of detainees’ property and valuables. Strict enforcement of these without accommodation could cause unnecessary hardship to PWDs and could amount to discriminatory practice under the DDO.

33. The Service Guidelines do not cover all major types of disabilities, such as visual impairments or illnesses or conditions that have particular impact on law enforcement actions (e.g. epileptic seizure).

34. The Service Guidelines refer to the use of “common sense” by Immigration Service Staff. This is inadequate where the staff member is not knowledgeable about the disability encountered or holds erroneous assumptions about PWDs. The Service Guidelines also use terms that are outdated and unclear.

Special Needs Arrangements

35. The Department has in place arrangements, at various immigration control points, to cater for the special needs of PWDs, the elderly and others. The Service Guidelines have provisions for giving assistance to such passengers, such as providing help-through facilities, waiving personal attendance, separate clearance and form filling assistance. For solemnization of marriage, the Service Guidelines provide that persons with hearing impairments will be provided with sign language interpretation.

36. Conspicuous signage and posters are displayed at immigration premises at Lo Wu (but not at the other immigration control points) to inform members of the public of the special services/facilities available.

37. In relation to the Department’s personal documentation and registration function, a departmental notice specifies that special arrangements are available for senior citizens. However, there is little information, internal or public, regarding special arrangements for services for PWDs, save for the provision about solemnization of marriage mentioned above.

38. The Department has a procedure for the handling of complaints from the public and introduced a suggestion box system in mid 2000 as a pilot project to enhance customer service. However, the Department has no separate statistics on disability related complaints.

39. In the study Immigration Officers and PWDs gave suggestions on ways to improve the Department’s provision of special needs arrangements.


40. The Department’s Guide on Conduct and Discipline should be reformulated to cover all grounds on which discrimination is rendered unlawful. The Guide should be made public.

41. The Service Guidelines need to be reviewed for adequacy and propriety of the language used, and expanded to deal with a fuller range of functions and disabilities. The parts relevant to disability considerations should be brought together into one manual and developed systematically, and a “Commonly Asked Questions” type of manual should be prepared to supplement the formal Service Guidelines.

42. Those internal instructions dealing with some functions which make no specific reference to PWDs but which have implications for PWDs should be examined to ensure that they would not adversely affect the basic rights of PWDs.

43. The Department should consider inviting PWDs to conduct checkwalks or audits of facilities and physical arrangements at immigration control points to identify areas for improvement.

44. Statistics should be kept of complaints, requests for special arrangements and appreciations, as the information will assist future planning.

Training and Management Support


45. The Department provides induction training to new recruits of the Immigration Service Staff. Prior to the commencement of this study, the induction course for newly recruited Immigration Officers had 3 out of 869 hours devoted to introducing the anti-discrimination ordinances, and the induction course for the Immigration Assistant rank had 2 out of 482 hours devoted to this subject.

46. The Department also runs in-service training courses for Immigration Service Staff at different ranks. Prior to the commencement of this study, these courses did not cover the anti-discrimination ordinances. Sensitivity training was limited to the training on the Rules and Direction in the Questioning of Suspects.

47. As the in-service training did not cover the anti-discrimination ordinances which came into operation in 1996 and 1997, the Immigration Service Staff who had joined the Department before that would have received no training on issues of discrimination prior to the present study.

48. After the Man Hon incident the EOC organised the introductory sensitivity training for some 270 Immigration Officers. A separate training programme was also organised by the City University of Hong Kong for the Senior and Chief Immigration Officers. The Department has indicated that, based on the introductory training sessions provided by the EOC and the City University, it has developed an improved training package. This has been incorporated into its induction and in-service training course.

49. The majority of the Immigration Officers surveyed considered the current Service Guidelines on how to handle PWDs and the Department’s internal management policies regarding equal opportunities inadequate.

50. Immigration Officers in the focus group meeting indicated that they had used their “common sense” to handle PWDs but that, in the absence of clear guidance, they were uncertain if their approaches were correct or acceptable.

51. Overseas, the induction course run by the UK Immigration Service includes equal opportunities legislation, discrimination, harassment, and personal and vicarious liability. In the USA a series of trainers guides have been produced on police response to people with different disabilities. Each guide deals with the legislative requirements, characteristics of the disability, interaction between the disability and law enforcement and sensitive responses to disabilities.


52. The study finds that training provided to the Immigration Service Staff was inadequate in terms of knowledge, sensitivity, communication skills and appropriate procedures. Both induction and in-service training is needed on a wide range of topics covering PWDs and equal opportunity principles.

53. The use of common sense by the Immigration Service Staff need not be discouraged, but it must be built on the basis of knowledge of disabilities and of the law and its application. Further, training of the management is required in the discharge of the Department’s vicarious liabilities for the acts of its employees.

54. The contact points established with the Social Welfare Department for the Immigration Service Staff to seek professional assistance should be expanded to cover disabilities other than autism and intellectual disabilities. However, Immigration Service Staff must be trained to enable them to identify and recognise different disabilities and PWDs, so that they know when to trigger a request for supervisory or professional support.

55. A sufficiently senior staff member should be designated as the equal opportunities officer to deal with equal opportunities concerns relevant to the Department and to manage the changes anticipated in this study.


56. It is recommended that the Department take the following actions in the areas listed below:

Commitment Statement to Equal Opportunities

(a) adopt and promote a clear and unequivocal mission statement on equal opportunities;

(b) convey such statement clearly to the public;

Equal Opportunities Practices and Procedures

(c) review and revise its existing Service Guidelines, practices and procedures regarding the handling of PWDs in connection with the Department’s law enforcement and control function and personal documentation and registration function;

(d) initially focus this process on disability issues but ultimately extend it to other areas of discrimination whether under specific anti-discrimination ordinances or the BORO;

(e) review its management, supervisory and professional support and advisory and referral procedures required to assist the Immigration Service Staff in discharging their duties and complying with the law;

(f) review its management procedures, including the grievance and complaints procedure, as regards its own employment relationship with its staff;

(g) take steps to ensure that in conducting staff performance appraisals, the appraisee’s adherence to or application of equal opportunities principles in carrying out his or her duties is taken into account;

(h) in revising the Service Guidelines, practices and procedures or in developing new ones, act as far as practicable in consultation with relevant concern groups, self-help groups and other expert agencies;

Consolidated Guidelines

(i) publish a service manual that consolidates all the relevant Service Guidelines, practices and procedures covering all areas of equal opportunities and discrimination (the booklet may be published in phases or in parts in an appropriate order);

(j) consider developing helpful and handy answers to basic questions for easy reference by the Immigration Service Staff;

Equal Opportunities Training

(k) organise a train-the-trainer programme relating to equal opportunities principles and discrimination issues for all personnel involved in training and in human resource management, enlisting external expertise as appropriate;

(l) develop, through its training school, a general training programme on equal opportunities principles and discrimination issues, which should make reference to the Department’s mission statement, Service Guidelines, practices and procedures;

(m) develop as a matter of priority, through its training school, a series of training programmes on the identification and recognition of disabilities, removal of assumptions and prejudices regarding PWDs and the handling skills needed to interact with PWDs with particular reference to communication skills;

Equal Opportunities Officer

(n) designate a sufficiently senior staff member as the equal opportunities officer;

Assistance to People with Special Needs

(o) produce a range of products, in accessible formats, to inform people with special needs of any special assistance available to them;

(p) promote, jointly with non-government organisations and service agencies where appropriate, special assistance services and facilities available to people with special needs;

(q) invite the participation of PWDs in developing special assistance, services and facilities relevant to PWDs; and

(r) arrange familiarization visits by PWDs and other people with special needs to the immigration control points and other relevant venues so as to enhance their understanding of the operation of the Department.

Shorter-term Implementation

57. It is recognised that the implementation of all the recommendations may take a relatively long time. With this in mind it is suggested that the following actions be accorded priority for implementation and that an action plan and an indicative time frame for implementation be developed by the Department:

(a) designation of an equal opportunities officer,

(b) adoption and promulgation of a public mission statement committing the Department to equal opportunities,

(c) organisation of a train-the-trainer programme and provision of training in equal opportunities principles to Immigration Service Staff, and

(d) development of the Service Guidelines, practices and procedures regarding the handling of PWDs.

A Final Note

58. Throughout the study, the Department has been very supportive and has provided the EOC with considerable information. The Department has initiated action in respect of some of the recommendations in relation to training and compilation of a set of consolidated Service Guidelines on disability. The Department has indicated that it will positively consider the recommendations made in this report. The EOC is most appreciative of the supportive and positive stance taken by the Department throughout the course of this study.

Equal Opportunities Commission

October 2001

Annex A: Questionnaire on "How Staff of the Immigration Department Handle Persons with Disabilities" (Pre-training)

Click here to download Annex A: Questionnaire on "How Staff of the Immigration Department Handle Persons with Disabilities" (Pre-training)

Annex B: Questionnaire on "How Staff of the Immigration Department Handle Persons with Disabilities" (Post-training)

Click here to download Annex B: Questionnaire on "How Staff of the Immigration Department Handle Persons with Disabilities" (Post-training)

Annex C: Discussion Guide for Focus Group on Interaction between Law Enforcement Officers and Persons with Disabilities and/or Their Family Members

Click here to download Annex C: Discussion Guide for Focus Group on Interaction between Law Enforcement Officers and Persons with Disabilities and/or Their Family Members

Annex D: Questionnaire Survey on Encounters between Law Enforcement Officers and Persons with Disabilities

Click here to download Annex D: Questionnaire Survey on Encounters between Law Enforcement Officers and Persons with Disabilities

Annex E: A Collection of Overseas Materials Relevant to the Handling of Persons with Disabilities by Law Enforcement Officers

Click here to download Annex E: A Collection of Overseas Materials Relevant to the Handling of Persons with Disabilities by Law Enforcement Officers

Annex F: List of Trainers Guides on Police Response to Persons with Disabilities Produced by the Police Executive Research Forum, USA

Click here to download Annex F: List of Trainers Guides on Police Response to Persons with Disabilities Produced by the Police Executive Research Forum, USA