A crackdown on illegal immigration and employment in Hong Kong has netted four more people, with an Indian woman, a Nepalese and two Vietnamese sentenced at Shatin and Tuen Mun magistrates courts.

The 27-year-old woman and the Nepalese, 33, were detained during a raid on a restaurant in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island in May. Both were identified as asylum seekers holding recognizance forms who were permitted to remain in the city but barred from taking up employment while background checks were conducted. They were washing dishes when the restaurant was raided.

In the same month, police and immigration officers staging an operation code-named Twilight arrested a Vietnamese chef for working illegally at a restaurant in Causeway Bay. The 27-year-old man was also an asylum seeker.

The owners of the two restaurants raided, who were both said to be local people, were arrested for employing unregistered workers.

In a separate operation, an illegal immigrant from Vietnam was detained in Mong Kok district earlier this month. He was unable to produce any proof of identity and is suspected of having being smuggled in through China to take up employment.

The four illegals were sentenced to custodial terms of 15 to 18 months for working without a permit and breaching a deportation order.

An Immigration Department spokesperson warned that anyone defying an employment ban was liable to face a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,370) and imprisonment of up to three years.

The Hong Kong Court of Appeal has issued a sentencing guideline that mandates a jail term of at least 15 months as an added deterrent, and ordered that anyone knowingly hiring illegal workers should also face an immediate custodial sentence.

“Apart from inspecting a prospective employee’s identity card, the employer has the explicit duty to make enquiries regarding the person and ensure that their answers would not cast any reasonable doubt concerning the lawful employability of the person … The court will not accept failure to do so as a defense in proceedings,” said a reminder from the Immigration Department.

The penalty for anyone violating a deportation order is imprisonment of up to seven years.

There has been a trend of local businesses hiring illegal workers from South Asia and Southeast Asia, as they can pay them just a fraction of the prevailing market wages.

The Immigration Department will normally conduct initial screening of vulnerable persons such as illegal workers, illegal immigrants, sex workers and foreign domestic helpers arrested during any operation to ascertain whether they are victims of human trafficking.

Those who are will be provided with a range of supports, including medical services, counselling and temporary accommodation.