Airport needs new procedures

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Airport needs new procedures

K. W. Chow, for the director of immigration ("Staff at airport hitting targets", August 13), replied to my letter on the time it took to go through immigration at Chek Lap Kok ("Long wait in line out of order", July 31).

As I am a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I assure him I am able to read my watch correctly. The use of averages is known to miss fluctuations, and a 92 per cent standard does not yield good-quality service. Indeed, why should visitors wait in line on average 15 minutes to leave? I have not experienced this type of wait when leaving other places.

Further, while eight counters were open, Mr Chow admits that only 15 per cent of visitors used the three counters that had almost no traffic, as I observed in my letter.

Thus, the procedures should be improved so that visitors leaving Hong Kong are not subject to long waits.

Jerry Hausman, professor of economics, MIT, Boston, US

(Unlike most of the times I quote a letter to the SCMP, this time I don't think the writer is unhinged.)

One of the issues which Prof. Hausman mentions above (and which was referred to in the Director of Immigration reply earlier) was the average time taken to go through outbound immigration. The Immigration Department has spent a great deal of time and effort to speed up the processing of residents as they go through the various border controls we have in Hong Kong. Much of this effort has been the replacement of paper based systems with electronic systems, and the whole SmartID system.

If Prof. Hausman had glanced to his right while queuing, he may have noticed some people approaching turnstiles, using a card of some kind and apparently being processed electronically. Total time through inbound or outbound immigration for those lucky people? Under a minute, depending on the volume of people. When I return to HK usually, I don't stop walking from leaving the plane to collecting my bags.

So how to get one of those electronic cards? Well, you have to be a permanent resident[1] with a SmartID card. Unfortunatey for Prof. Hausman, that means that you must be resident in HK for a period of 7 years.

[1] I've heard rumours that the electronic system will be extended to non-permanent residents, but I've not heard anything concrete about that. UPDATE: Spike confirms in the comments that the E-Channel at the airport is usable by ordinary residents.

This short processing time naturally makes the average processing time look very good. And, as the vast majority of border crossers are permanent residents, the costs benefit analysis is clearly on the side of improving the experience for permanent residents.

One of the primary drivers behind the whole speeding up of the immigration process has been the land-based borders (we're supposed to call them 'boundaries' now) with China. The Lo Wu border, for example, can handle several hundred thousand travellers per day, largely thanks to immigration on the HK and China sides being largely electronic. There are queues at the non-electronic immigration gates there too, but they're nothing like the airport queues.

Note that this doesn't change Prof. Hausman's point at all: there are still far too few Immigration officials manning the Visitor gates at the airport and this can create a poor first (or last) impression as to the efficiency of the airport and Hong Kong.

The Immigration department separates the categories according to equipment required to process the travel documents. Permanent residents just have their ID cards scanned, Ordinary residents will require a passport stamp, while visitors will require a visa sticker or stamp. Officers at non-visitor gates will almost certainly not have the equipement required to process visitors and this is a big part of the problem. It's 2007, we should be entirely electronic with visitor records now. The Australians have electronic Visas, so why doesn't HK record a visitor visa on the passport number electronically?

There is a way to bypass the long visitor queues, if you're a regular visitor: Frequent Visitor Card. Unfortunately, it requires that you have come to Hong Kong three or more times in the last 12 months, but it may be of value anyway.


Spike said:

The E-Channel is open to all HK residents who have a Smart ID card. I do not have PR status and am able to use the electronic system and have been for ... I can't recall but I'd guess at least six months or a year now.

doug said:

I second spike's comment. I use the e-channel all the time. I don't understand why nobody else knows about this.

I even helped a friend of mine who was on the flight with me from singapore use his e card to get through. he claimed never to have heard about it before. But I've been using the e channel for six months at least, and I am not a permanent resident.

Who told me? The bugger at the passport counter who obviously wanted less work to do.

dave said:

Thanks guys, it's good to know that the E-Channel at the airport works for Ordinary Residents.

I tried to get an Ordinary Resident to use the E-Channel at LoWu some time back, but it didn't work. However, that may have been more than six months ago.

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This page contains a single entry by dave published on August 18, 2007 2:26 PM.

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