The Immigration Department of the Government of Hong Kong is responsible for immigration control of Hong Kong. After the People's Republic of China assumed sovereignty of the territory in July 1997, Hong Kong's immigration system remained largely unchanged from its British predecessor model. Residents from mainland China do not have the right of abode in Hong Kong, nor can they enter the territory freely, both before and after 1997. There are different regulations that apply to residents of Macau, another Special Administrative Region of China. In addition, visa-free entry acceptance regulations into Hong Kong for passport holders of some 170 countries remain unchanged before and after 1997.
In a special arrangement, although Hong Kong's residents of Chinese descent are defined as citizens of the People's Republic of China, as stipulated by the Basic Law, Hong Kong's Immigration Department is responsible for issuing Hong Kong SAR passports for Hong Kong residents who are also PRC citizens seeking international travel.
Prior to the 1950s, immigration to Hong Kong was not controlled by the government of Hong Kong and migrants freely entered Hong Kong. By the end of World War II, the influx of migrants from China to Hong Kong to flee Communist rule resulted in immigration control.
Until the establishment of Immigration Department on 4 August 1961, immigration control in Hong Kong was handled by the Hong Kong Police Force. The Immigration Service Ordinance 1961 created the new department in charge of immigration control. Later in 1977, the department enlarged its functions to cover registration of persons by amalgamating with the Registration of Persons Office and Director of Immigration also assumed as Commissioner of Registration. In 1979, the department took over from the Registrar General civil registration duties and the Director of Immigration was appointed as Registrar of Births and Deaths, and Registrar of Marriages.
In 2019, the department stopped allowing people to search birth or marital records without the consent of those being searched.
As with all of the HK Disciplined Services, British-pattern ranks and insignia continue to be utilised, the only change being the exchange of the St. Edward's Crown for the Bauhinia Flower crest post-1997. The ranks are listed below with their UK equivalences in brackets:
In 2005, Ma Ying-jeou was denied a visa by the Immigration Department, despite being born in Hong Kong.
In July 2020, TECO's highest officer in Hong Kong, Kao Ming-tsun, was not granted a renewal of his work visa by the Hong Kong government because he refused to sign a statement supporting the "One China" principle. The Mainland Affairs Council of Taiwan mentioned that other government representatives in TECO had experienced major visa delays from the Hong Kong government as well.
Since 2018, visas for some journalists have been declined by the Immigration Department, including New York Times journalist Chris Buckley and Hong Kong Free Press' incoming editor. In March 2021, the Ombudsman of Hong Kong announced that the Immigration Department was placed under investigation due to the rejection of the visa for the Hong Kong Free Press' incoming editor.
In November 2021, a journalist from The Economist was not granted a renewed visa.
In February 2020, Elizabeth Ward, Australia's new Consul-General to Hong Kong and Macau, was unable to take up her post due to visa delays, which was attributed to political tensions between Australia and China. In October, she was officially appointed.
In September 2021, SCMP reported that the department denied visas to dozens of Cathay Pacific pilots.
List of notable activists refused entry to Hong Kong
The department is also tasked with preventing visits by prominent human rights and democracy advocates, upon the direction of the mainland government.