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Guardians of Our Borders: How ICA Connects Singapore to the World

What does it take to ensure smooth immigration clearance for all travellers departing from and arriving at Changi Airport all year round?

TEXT: MELODY TAN

PHOTOS: IMMIGRATION & CHECKPOINTS AUTHORITY

Last December, 4.6 million travellers passed through Changi Airport – a number that’s likely to increase this year, as international travel continues to pick up post-COVID.

Smoothly clearing a large number of travellers 24/7 is no small feat. Thankfully, technology is helping to ease the workload says Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) Inspector (INSP) Haslam Yau.

“It has also enhanced immigration clearance experience and facilitated the movement of the high volume of travellers passing through Changi Airport,” he says.

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK

INSP Haslam and his team member overseeing the operations of the automated lanes at Terminal 2

INSP Haslam leads a team of 15 ICA officers to ensure the smooth running of ground operations at Changi Airport Terminal 2. On a day-to-day basis, he assesses the travellers who have been referred to him by his officers to determine if they are eligible to enter Singapore. As a Team Leader, INSP Haslam provides guidance to his team members, keeps them updated and trained on the latest Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), as well as ensure that they have adequate breaks, especially on days with heavy flight loads.

When a traveller is referred to INSP Haslam by frontline officers, he will conduct further screening, interviews and baggage checks to establish the intent of the traveller. 

“We may ask questions about their duration of stay and itinerary in Singapore. This helps us assess their eligibility for entry into Singapore,” he explained. “Every case is different, and each case may warrant a different course of action. As a Team Leader, I have to think on my feet and make an informed decision.”

At the checkpoints, ICA continues to innovate its clearance capabilities to better manage the increasing volume of travellers. One such initiative deployed at Changi Airport is the Automated Clearance Initiative (ACI). Under ACI, eligible foreign visitors can use the automated lanes for immigration clearance on arrival, without prior enrolment of their biometrics. Enrolment is done automatically as the traveller clears through immigration using the automated lanes. Once enrolled, they will be able to clear immigration using the automated lanes when they depart and on subsequent visits to Singapore. 

ICA also implemented the Special Assistance Lanes at selected passenger halls at Changi Airport which allows family groups and travellers using wheelchairs to enjoy convenience of immigration self-clearance with their biometrics. Singapore is the first country in the world to introduce an automated lane that allows multiple travellers to perform self-immigration clearance as a group.

FASTER, BETTER, MORE EFFICIENT

There are more tech-powered updates in store. In 2024, majority of travellers will no longer need to present their passport to depart Changi Airport, thanks to the implementation of end-to-end biometric clearance. Travellers would not need to produce their passport and boarding pass multiple times during the boarding process. Their biometrics will serve as the single token of authentication at the various automated touchpoints. However, travellers will still need to produce their passports when arriving at their destinations.

Adding to this convenience is the MyICA Mobile application, a one-stop digital platform to transact with ICA anytime and anywhere. This app allows users to access all ICA e-Services, including SG Arrival Card (SGAC) with health declaration functions.

The SGAC was introduced as part of ICA’s move towards paperless immigration clearance. It replaced the paper-based disembarkation/embarkation card that foreign visitors were required to submit to ICA upon arrival at our checkpoints. During COVID-19, ICA included the electronic health declaration function, which allowed travellers to submit both their arrival details and health declaration online before entering Singapore. Despite the easing of travel restrictions, travellers entering via air and sea are still required to submit SGAC to mitigate the risk of importation of diseases of concern (e.g. Yellow Fever and Ebola) into Singapore.

MyICA Mobile app makes filling in SGAC much easier, explained INSP Haslam. For those who travel in and out of Singapore by air frequently, they can create and store their personal profiles within the app. With the profile created, travellers would only need to update their trip details and health declaration for the subsequent trips, instead of filling in their personal details again. Families can also easily submit the SGAC as a group by having a member create and store the profiles of each family member on the app and submit it on their behalf.

“They won’t have to fill up the arrival card on the spot, which makes immigration clearance faster,” he said. “Travellers can submit the SGAC up to three days prior to arriving in Singapore, including on the day of arrival.” 

INSP Haslam highlighted that the MyICA Mobile app also helps travellers avoid falling prey to scammers. Some commercial entities may mislead travellers into thinking that they need to be paid a fee to fill in and submit the SGAC on their behalf. 

“These agencies are not endorsed by ICA,” he said firmly. “Travellers can submit SGAC either via ICA’s website or the MyICA Mobile app. The submission is free of charge and takes approximately three to ten minutes to complete.”

SERVING TRAVELLERS WITH HEART

Being a team leader at Changi Airport for over two years, INSP Haslam relishes the opportunity to interact with travellers of different backgrounds.

One particularly memorable incident occurred when an elderly Japanese traveller with dementia could not find her passport.

“She couldn’t converse in English and couldn’t recall where she had left her passport,” recounted INSP Haslam. “I asked one of my officers to see if anyone was waiting for her at the arrival hall.”

The officer spotted a younger Japanese woman who turned out to be the elderly lady’s daughter. She described the pouch her mother kept her passport in. INSP Haslam radioed the duty terminal manager to ask the airline’s representatives to search the aircraft. The passport and its pouch were found in her seat pocket and the traveller was cleared through immigration.

“She was really frail and looked terrified,” said INSP Haslam. “When she saw her daughter, she burst into tears.”

For INSP Haslam and his fellow ICA officers, using their wits, training and armed with technology to ensure that travellers begin or end their journeys smoothly is all in a day’s work – and key to their commitment to safeguard Singapore’s borders.

LESS HASSLE, MORE TRAVEL

To keep travel hassle-free during the upcoming year-end holidays, INSP Haslam has a tip or two for Singaporeans embarking on or returning from their holidays abroad at Changi Airport.

“Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months before travelling and remember to submit your SGAC within three days before arriving in Singapore to enjoy a smooth clearance on arrival,” he said.

Interested in serving beyond your obligations? Consider the Volunteer Extension Scheme, which allows PNSMen who have completed their NS liability to continue serving beyond their statutory age. PNSMen (With NS liability) who have passed their statutory age of 40 years (Junior Officers) & 50 years (Senior Officers) may apply.

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