Many people seek entry into a new country for several reasons. These include seeking refuge, pursuing opportunities or reuniting with family. However, entering a foreign country can be a challenging legal process that involves several government officials, such as immigration officers. In this article, we discuss what an immigration officer does and the skills, education and training required to become an immigration officer.
What is an immigration officer?
An immigration officer is responsible for exercising effective immigration control and enforcing the laws. The job of an immigration officer is exciting and involves a variety of activities that range from ensuring border security, identifying illegal immigrants and issuing travel documents, to screening talented and financially established individuals who wish to become citizens.
Immigration officers utilise their knowledge of the law to identify whether people arriving in the country may enter. They also approve a visitor's stay in the country. An immigration officer often works in office settings and assists with immigration processes at the airport, border control and port.
Typical duties for an immigration officer
Immigration officers work with the government and contribute to the security and prosperity of the nation. Their primary objectives are to facilitate the country's immigration system and identify fraud attempts or potential threats. Although day-to-day responsibilities may vary for each immigration officer, their duties commonly include:
- Inspection of passengers arriving and departing by sea, land and air
- Implementing measures relating to counter-terrorism
- Preventing and identifying immigration-related crimes
- Maintaining records and data management
- Issuing secured identity cards and travel documents to the residents
- Processing visa applications and granting the extension of stay
- Researching data and assessing the accuracy of information provided on candidate applications
- Requesting records or collecting data to back claims regarding an application
- Completing background checks
- Providing civil registration services for marriages, births and deaths
Skills required for an immigration officer
Here are some skills that are beneficial for becoming an immigration officer:
- Active Listening: Carefully listening to what other people are saying, asking the right questions and taking time to understand the points they're trying to convey.
- Good communication and interpersonal skills: These are the top skills required for an immigration officer as they face hundreds of residents and visitors each day.
- Critical thinking: Using reasoning and logic to determine the strengths and weaknesses of different solutions and approaches to a problem.
- Sound judgement and decision-making skills: Considering the relative pros and cons of possible actions to choose the most appropriate one.
- Attention to detail: Being careful about details and thoroughly complete your assigned duties.
- Analytical thinking: This job requires analysing information and using logic to address issues and problems related to work. Officers need excellent skills to identify forged documents and an analytical mind to notice suspicious people.
- Cooperation: Being pleasant with people on the job and displaying a cooperative, good-natured attitude is important.
- Adaptability: Being open to change and considerable variety in the workplace.
- Leadership: Demonstrate the willingness to lead, take charge and offer opinions and directions.
- Writing: Effective communication in writing as appropriate for the audience's needs.
- Knowledge about law and regulations: Knowledge about legal codes, executive orders, government regulations and processes.
- Comfortable with technology: Knowledge of various types of software and database and familiarity with electronics and computer software and hardware.
Average salary of an immigration officer
At the start of their careers, immigration officers can expect to earn between HK$36,655 and HK$41,380 per month, depending on their academic qualifications. The salary package increases as you gain more experience on the job. As you progress in your career, you may take on additional management and administrative roles. Once your supervisor promotes you to a senior immigration officer role, then you may be eligible to take on a chief immigration officer and principal immigration officer role.
Even after working for several years in the department, you may have to attend training programs regularly to upskill or enhance your existing skills. Often outstanding officers get the opportunity to travel overseas on exchange programmes.
How to become an immigration officer
If you're considering a career as an immigration officer, these steps can help guide you through the process:
1. Gain the required education
To begin a career as an immigration officer, you need to obtain the required educational qualifications and meet the requirements of the department, which are:
- Earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or a diploma from a registered post-secondary college or a higher diploma from a polytechnic college or an accredited associate degree from a tertiary institution, or equivalent
- Pass a physical fitness test
- Be able to speak fluent Cantonese and English
2. Apply for the position
Once you've met the requirements, you can apply for a position with the Immigration Department. The selection process begins with a physical fitness test, followed by a preliminary interview. All the eligible candidates then appear for a written examination. Once you qualify in the written examination, you can advance to the subsequent selection process, which is the final interview.
In this last assessment process, you'll be actively engaged with open-ended questions on any relevant topics. Higher-ranking officers of the department often conduct the final interview. The interviewers can use this opportunity to evaluate you as a person and understand how well you may fit into the works of the Immigration Department.
3. Complete the training period
Newly recruited immigration officers undergo a 25-week residential induction training program at the Immigration Service Institute of Training and Development. The training covers all aspects of the Immigration Department and its operations, from basic law and immigration policy to staff management and leadership skills. During the training program, you're also given the opportunity to work in different departments.
Once you have successfully completed the training program, the department can appoint you on civil service probationary terms for three years. During the probation period, you may have to work in two or three positions, each lasting for about 12 months. The rotation allows you to gain more exposure to the operation of the department. Upon satisfactory completion of the probationary period, they may consider you for an appointment on the prevailing permanent terms.
4. Learn new skills
Your training doesn't stop once you graduate from the institute. As you advance in your career as an immigration officer, consider learning new skills to boost your workplace performance. You may also have to attend training programmes to enhance your skills. This could also give you an advantage at the workplace, potentially providing you with more career advancement opportunities or give you a competitive advantage over other candidates.
Work prospects for an immigration officer
Immigration officers may hold specific job titles based on their duties. You can work in any of the following branches of the Immigration Department:
The Control branch of the Immigration Department is responsible for formulating and implementing policies concerning controls on entry or exit to the country. They're also responsible for examining passengers arriving and departing at the airport, border controls and port.
Enforcement and torture claim assessment
The branch plans and implements policies regarding investigation and handling immigration-related prosecution. They also implement and review measures concerning counter-terrorism. Additionally, the unit can handle efforts regarding deportation and removal.
This branch of the Immigration Department plans and implements new information systems, operates existing information systems and maintains records and data management.
Management and support
The management and support branch receives, monitors and reviews complaints, provides internal inspection and auditing services to confirm that they execute prevailing policies and procedures efficiently. They are also responsible for department-wide management support, including staff deployment and training.
This branch performs activities related to documentation services that include issuing passports, identity cards and other travel documents to residents. They also register births, deaths and marriages in the country. They work towards promoting acceptance of the country's travel document and negotiate visa-free travel arrangements for residents.
Removal assessment and litigation
The branch reviews and implements strategies for handling non-refoulement claims. They also plan and implement measures regarding deportation and removal of unsubstantiated non-refoulement claimants.
Visa and policies
The visa and policies branch issues visas and grant an extension of stay to deserving candidates. They regularly conduct research and policy reviews on visa control matters.