At the Second Reading of the Immigration (Amendment) Bill in September 2023, I made, amongst others, the point that, from a justice perspective, immigrants should be treated fairly in a way that reflects our values as a nation and being members of a common humanity, even though I accepted that we do not owe foreigners the same obligations as we owe fellow Singaporeans. My speech on this issue (and other points) is set out below.
Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok): Mr Speaker, Sir, I support the primary aims behind this Bill, as enunciated by the hon Second Minister for Home Affairs in her speech, especially the proposal to digitalise and automate the immigration clearance.
It is well known that our ICA officers, staff and auxiliary police officers deployed at our immigration checkpoints have heavy workloads. The Woodlands Checkpoint ranks amongst the world’s busiest border crossing with more than 350,000 passing through every day. Just over the long weekend of the Presidential Election from 31 August 2023 to 4 September 2023, more than 1.7 million people crossed Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints.
These officers often make personal sacrifices to discharge their duties. Owing to the lean manpower situation, they frequently forgo going on leave during school holidays which coincides with the peak travel periods. This is so that fellow Singaporeans are not inconvenienced when they travel on holidays. They deserve our salute for steadfastly securing Singapore’s borders and keeping us safe despite the significant challenges, some of which were enunciated by the hon Second Minister.
With the manpower crunch that all sectors across Singapore face, it makes eminent sense to leverage on technology to ease the clearance process.
The plans to implement automated and contactless clearance and the checkpoints without passport presentation are particularly welcome. Not only will these measures result in faster clearance, but they also improve the experience of travellers too.
For these reasons, I fully support the provisions in the Bill to implement the automated and contactless clearance process at checkpoints.
Turning to the other objectives of the Bill, I seek clarification on three broad areas.
First, the revised approach to sentencing when dealing with immigration offenders. I note that it is proposed that fines be introduced in lieu of an extended prison term for immigration offenders convicted of immigration offences and who are exempted from or found to be medically unfit for caning.
On the face of it, the replacement of a prison term imposed in lieu of caning with fines instead of imprisonment alone, may dilute the overall deterrent effect of the sentence. I understand that the policy reason for this is to reduce the state resources that would otherwise be committed when foreigners who cannot be caned have to serve longer imprisonment terms.
In principle, I do not have an issue with the policy, so long as the execution of this policy is carefully calibrated with other sentencing aims. My query is two-fold.
One, why is this policy applicable to an offender convicted of the offence of employing five or more illegal immigrants under the proposed section 57(1B) of the Act? Usually, such offenders, being employers, are likely to be Singapore residents. Hence, the policy precipitating this change should not be applicable to this class of offenders.
Two, why is there no provision in the Bill to deal with the probability that immigration offenders do not pay the fine? I would imagine that most foreign immigration offenders would lack the means to pay fines. This is why they left their home to come to Singapore — to make money.
If fine sentences are imposed in lieu of imprisonment over the inability to carry out a caning sentence, we would have to deal with the high probability that these offenders would not be able to pay the fine.
In such a situation, since nothing is specifically proposed in the Bill, section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code, or CPC, would apply. This provision gives the Court the power to impose an additional imprisonment term in default of payment of fine.
There is a scale under section 319 of the CPC that determines the limit of the imprisonment terms. For offences punishable with a term of 24 months or more, the maximum imprisonment term cannot exceed half of the maximum term of imprisonment fixed for the offence. This is the upper limit of the scale. For offences punishable with imprisonment for a term less than 24 months, the maximum imprisonment term cannot exceed one-third of the maximum term of imprisonment fixed for the offence. This is the lower limit of the scale.
There are several offences provided in the Immigration Act that are subject to caning, for which the upper limit under section 319 of the CPC applies. And to illustrate that, if you were to look at section 9 of the Act as it currently stands, which deals with an immigration offender who has already been issued with a Prohibition Order. If he were to come into Singapore again, then, he may face an imprisonment term of not less then two years or not more than five years, and shall also be liable to be fined and caned.
As was mentioned by the hon Minister, if he is not medically fit to take caning, then the Court can replace the caning sentence with an imprisonment term of not more than 12 months. But with the replacement of the caning with a fine sentence, by applying section 319, because the punishment is more than two years, the upper limit of the scale would apply; in which case the default imprisonment term can go up to two and a half years — which is more than the 12-month period for not receiving a caning sentence.
In my respectful view, a simple provision in the amendment Bill would have taken care of this — spelling out that a shorter imprisonment period, or the lower limit under section 319 of the CPC may be imposed in situations where fines, imposed in lieu of caning, are not paid.
May I ask the hon Minister why is it not felt necessary to make this explicit in this amendment Bill?
I now turn to the next area. I would term this as an issue of fairness in dealing with foreigners.
In explaining this provision, I note the hon Minister’s point entry into Singapore is really the prerogative of the government. I have no quarrel with that proposition.
In addition, it it is proposed that current section 8(4A), which requires the Controller to inform a person the class of prohibited immigrants of which, in the opinion of the Controller, the person is a member of, be also repealed too.
For the benefit of hon Members, there are 15 classes in the Immigration Act, ranging from a person who is believed to have no means of supporting himself or herself, or believed to be a prostitute or believed to be a person who advocates the overthrow of the government by violence.
Also, under the proposed section 39B of the Act, it is provided that the Controller is not required to give any person, who may be affected by his decision, an opportunity to be heard. Respectfully, I am concerned about these proposals for the following reasons.
First, from a values perspective, I disagree with the view that just because we are dealing with foreigners who should not expect the right of entry or stay in Singapore, we should deal with them summarily.
In my respectful view, our immigration system should reflect the values we stand for as a nation. Granted — we do not owe non-Singaporeans the same duties and obligations we owe to ourselves. But foreigners should have the same recourse to justice, as a matter of principle — and in this case, we owe them two specific duties as members of a common humanity.
First, a duty to treat them fairly. To mandate that they need not be told why they are labelled as prohibited immigrants, nor offer them an avenue to provide explanation does not, in my respectful view, fulfil this duty.
Also, we must be mindful that a good number of foreigners who may be subject of action by the Controller have spousal or familial relations with Singaporeans. Such affected Singaporeans would certainly expect that the system operates fairly for their spouses or relatives in dealing with immigration matters.
As I said on point of fairness, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I would imagine if the roles were reversed, Singaporeans who are immigrants in other countries would expect to be dealt with fairly by foreign immigration authorities too.
Second, a duty of due process. The current appeal process to the Minister ensures that there will be no single point of failure; from a system perspective.
We should be mindful it is proposed in this Bill that the Controller be vested with even more powers. As was explained by the hon Minister, one example is the No Boarding Directive to deny foreigners from boarding from places of embarkation, even as transit travellers.
Just by having an appeal process alone, we will ensure, system-wise, that the Controller will use his powers carefully and with circumspection. By having an appeal process, the Minister would be able to have access to all relevant facts of the case to make his own decision on the merits of the case. This is as opposed to a mere administrative review by the Minister on the basis that ICA comes under his charge. He is well capable of handling sensitive factors and information too.
In fact, this is the rationale for providing the statutory appeal to the Minister instead of to the Court which is ordinarily be accessible by members of public and the press.
Finally, I am not privy to any information that suggests that the current system is broken. I do appreciate that the Government must be pragmatic in dealing with immigration matters. However, unlike some countries which deal with immigration matters through the judicial system and have a backlog of cases to handle, I do not think a similar situation exists in Singapore. Hence, the question arises, if it ain’t broken, why fix it?
I would also like to point out that, as a matter of comparative law, countries such as Malaysia and Brunei which have similar history and similar pieces of legislation as our Immigration Act, still retain the statutory appeal to the equivalent of our Minister. I would be grateful for the hon Minister’s explanation to my concerns.
Finally, I turn to my last area — operational matters. For this area, I wish to raise two points.
First, on the proposal to allow immigration officers to collect Advance Passenger Information, I would like to enquire if it is proposed that public transport operators such as the operator of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link that is due to be commissioned in about 3 years’ time or SBS Transit that operates Service no 170 will have the obligation to collect API or would they be exempt?
The provisions in the Bill, as they stand, are to be wide enough to include public transport operators. Should they apply, however, this may create practical problems and bottlenecks having regard to the huge number of train and bus commuters that the operators will have to handle on a daily basis.
Second and finally, I note that it is proposed that the Controller be vested with the power to temporarily restrain a child from leaving Singapore in compliance with the court order until the child’s parent or legal guardian collects him or her.
I support the proposal. I would like to make a suggestion in this regard.
I understand from my professional colleagues who practise family law that, in the usual case, the Family Court would order that a child be allowed to leave Singapore where the other parent provides his or her written consent. Such orders would then be served on ICA. ICA will then have to take on the obligation to operationalise the order by checking to see if the “suitable person” wanting to bring the child out of Singapore has the requisite written consent. I wonder if there is scope to digitalise the entire process. They should cover both the notification of Court orders as well as the lodgement of written consent with ICA. In this way, I believe we will gain more efficiency and reduce the risk of making mistakes, too.
Sir, in conclusion, let me iterate my support once again for the provisions in this Bill aimed at equipping our men and women of the ICA with the necessary legal tools and teeth to effectively deal with the growing challenges that they face in carrying out their important task of securing our country’s borders.
I have carefully reviewed the proposed amendments in the Bill dealing with sentencing policy in the Immigration Act. I do not believe they represent a derogation from our uncompromising stance against immigration offenders as well as traffickers and harbourers of illegal and prohibited immigrants, that the law will deal with them firmly by imprisonment, caning or fine.
It is important to maintain this tough stance so that we do not backslide to the situation several decades ago when we had a serious illegal immigrant problem that affected Singaporeans’ safety and security. Mr Speaker, Sir, notwithstanding my concerns that I expressed in my speech, I support the Bill.
Mrs Josephine Teo: Mr Speaker, I thank the Members for their thoughtful comments and strong support of the Bill. Please allow me to address their questions in turn.
Where digitalisation and automated immigration clearance is concerned, there are three broad buckets of concerns. The first has to do with cyber readiness and resilience; the second on data security; and third, how we deal with impersonations.
Mr Derrick Goh, Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Mr Gerald Giam, Mr Shawn Huang, Mr Vikram Nair and Mr Yip Hon Weng asked many good questions. Ms Poh Li San knows the issues particularly well, being deeply involved in airport management.
Sir, Singapore will be one of the first few countries in the world to introduce automated, passport-free immigration clearance. Besides Dubai, which already offers passport-free clearance for certain enrolled travellers, we do not know exactly which other countries have similar plans. MHA and ICA will certainly seek to enable more convenient travel for our people but it is likely that physical passports will still be required for many countries outside Singapore.
To prepare for this NCC, ICA has been training its officers since 2020. Mr Choo will be glad to know that as a result, around 4,000 ICA officers are able to take on higher-value jobs in assessment and investigation, using newly acquired skills such as investigative interviewing and profiling.
Besides levelling up staff capabilities, the key to a successful implementation of the NCC is universal coverage of all travellers. This requires a willingness to phase out traditional methods of identifying and authenticating travellers. The alternative of running two systems in parallel is not only costly but also cumbersome.
To assist seniors who may not be able to provide certain biometrics or who may not be digitally savvy, I assure Mr Gan, Mr Giam and Mr Yip that immigration officers will be on hand to help. The officers can also conduct manual clearance by exception.
As immigration clearance becomes more digitalised, ICA is fully aware of its responsibility in ensuring the availability and resilience of its systems. It therefore works closely with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) and GovTech to meet reliability and security requirements in upstream design.
For example, the next generation Automated Border Clearance System (ABCS) will allow travellers to continue using automated clearance gates if there are any outages. This is possible because they will be equipped with failover capabilities such as uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and can still function if the supporting systems such as the online biometrics database is down.
Nonetheless, some of the NCC capabilities are novel and highly customised to Singapore’s context. Despite our best efforts, disruptions may still happen. Our business continuity plans will then be promptly activated through a combination of measures such as recalling off-duty officers and prioritising traveller clearance according to departure times. This should help minimise service degradation. This is also the careful approach as we undertake the ongoing upgrade of the Multi-Modal Biometrics System (MMBS), which Mr Giam asked about.
In addition, ICA monitors systems performance to ensure benchmarks are met. With large systems, external vendors may be involved. ICA and HTX can and will pursue liquidated damages from a vendor if the systems fail to meet the required standards.
To Ms Poh’s query, only Singapore-registered companies can undertake IT projects related to ICA. All employees of vendors undergo a compulsory security screening exercise and must be cleared before they are allowed to work on the project. They are bound by a non-disclosure agreement and may be held criminally liable for any wrongful or unauthorised communication, possession or use of information under the relevant laws such as the Public Sector (Governance) Act.
To uphold high standards of cybersecurity, HTX also carries out independent Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing exercises prior to commissioning and annually thereafter. This complements the regular audits by ICA to identify and address vulnerabilities.
I hope Mr Vikram Nair will be reassured to know that ICA will also deploy more advanced scanning technologies and sensors to automate security checks for vehicles. Additionally, AI will also be used to strengthen detection capabilities for cargo.
These assurances are relevant for both cyber and data security. The Minister’s approval is required for access to and disclosure of data, and must satisfy the purposes specified in the Act, such as for the enforcement of criminal law, failing which an offence can be made out. In addition, the data will be encrypted and go through secured data exchange gateways.
Specific to the biometric-enabled departure journey at Changi Airport that Mr Derrick Goh asked about, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) will be bound by the terms of a data sharing agreement with ICA. It puts the onus on CAG to take all reasonable measures to ensure the data is protected against unauthorised access, use, disclosure, modification or misuse. This includes setting up relevant access controls such as Two-Factor Authentication. ICA will audit CAG’s compliance and conduct regular checks on CAG’s systems.
As for the questions Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Vikram Nair raised, whether such data will be shared with other governments or foreign airport operators so as to facilitate immigration clearance for Singaporeans abroad, for security reasons this is not yet on the cards.
Members will be reassured to know that ICA itself must also comply with data protection provisions set out in the Public Sector (Governance) Act and the Instruction Manual 8. It will retain traveller data only for the period necessary for immigration processing, analytics or investigation. Once these tasks are completed and ICA no longer needs the data, they will be de-personalised and properly deleted.
In the unlikely event of a data breach, ICA and HTX will immediately conduct investigations to stop the breach, trace the extent of the breach, and prevent further breaches through remediation measures. On top of that, system vendors are obliged to adhere to data protection, cybersecurity and breach procedures as part of their contractual obligations to ICA, and must extend full cooperation and assistance to ICA at no additional cost.
Whether with analogue or digital systems, a determined criminal may still try to breach immigration controls. ICA will deploy monitoring tools to constantly check on its systems. They are equipped with the capability to detect impersonation and forged or tampered passports presented for clearance. Mr Gan Thiam Poh will be glad to know that the more recent use of multi-modal biometric clearance systems has in fact resulted in better detection of individuals seeking to impersonate others.
For manual clearance, immigration officers are trained to conduct facial checks to ensure that the person is the rightful holder of the passport. For those undeterred and caught, we will deal with them firmly. Between 2020 and 2022, there were 38 cases prosecuted in court involving the use of false passports or travel documents.
The right of entry approvals being wrongly granted, which Mr Shawn Huang asked about, is no higher with the NCC than with the current system. Moreover, ICA and HTX will conduct thorough end-to-end testing for any system changes before deployment.
Sir, Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about the impact of ICA’s shift to the use of digital permits and passes to verify immigration status. Since February 2023, ICA only issues digital Long-Term Passes. Individuals no longer need to visit ICA to collect the physical card, nor run the risk of losing or damaging it. ICA will not issue new physical cards for Long-Term Passes but previously issued cards will remain valid until they expire or are cancelled. ICA will digitalise other pass types in due course.
If an individual does not have a smart electronic device to display his digital permit or pass, he can enlist the help of family members to access the digital documents from ICA’s e-Services and print a copy to be used at our checkpoints. As such, we do not expect the digitalisation of passes to cause congestion.
Next, I will go on to ICA’s future-proofing initiatives. Mr Derrick Goh asked about the root cause of non-compliance by airlines in submitting advance passenger information. From ICA’s experience, it usually boils down to tardiness. Without being able to screen incoming travellers before their arrival, immigration clearance will be slower. A composition framework is therefore necessary, and is already practised in established jurisdictions like the US, the UK and New Zealand.
On the provisions for buses to also collect advance passenger information, let me assure Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Derrick Goh, Ms Poh Li San and Mr Yip Hon Weng that no timeline has been fixed. ICA has been engaging bus operators since July 2022, and will continue to do so before firming up any plans to collect such information.
Similarly for the NBDs, raised by Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Yip Hon Weng, we will continue discussions with the operators to find a practicable way forward before proceeding.
It is premature to go into details but in the event of non-compliance, ICA intends to make a holistic assessment of the facts of the case before deciding whether to prosecute. The offence of failing to comply with NBDs will likely be compoundable; this can be provided for in subsidiary legislation.
Mr Murali Pillai and Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about public transport operators such as SBS Transit. The Bill specifically excludes public bus operators from the submission of advance passenger information or to comply with the NBDs. This is because tickets are not being sold in advance and advance passenger information thus cannot be collected for ICA’s screening.
Mr Desmond Choo also asked for data on undesirable travellers transiting through our checkpoints. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a monthly average of 110 undesirable travellers denied entry into Singapore. With an NBD regime, we could keep such undesirable travelers from even coming to Singapore, especially those who pose a high security risk. Transport operators such as the airlines could also save resources from having to repatriate these travellers.
As a final point on NBDs, let me assure Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Yip Hon Weng that ICA will provide adequate transition periods for the respective domains and will do so in close consultation with the industry. For example, with the airlines, ICA intends to run trials from end-2024.
Let me now deal with the issue of false statements. Mr Yip Hon Weng asked how ICA plans to monitor and validate the accuracy of such statements. ICA will review the historical records of a person’s self-declarations and conduct further checks when there are inconsistencies across records. ICA will also cross-check with other available sources. For persons who are suspected to have made false statements or provided false information, ICA will commence investigations.
In the event passengers fail to declare symptoms of a contagious disease, whether deliberately or otherwise, ICA will work with relevant stakeholders to ensure there are other means to identify them. This includes engaging the transport operators’ help to flag them prior to boarding.
During a pandemic situation, travellers may also be required to conduct pre-arrival health checks or tests. If, unfortunately, such passengers still manage to arrive at our checkpoints, ICA will work with the Ministry of Health (MOH) to implement necessary measures to identify them promptly, such as through temperature screening or visual checks.
In terms of enforcement measures, ICA will maintain a firm and strict posture. Travellers deemed to have made false statements will have their entry into Singapore denied. With the proposed amendment at clause 57, it will be a strict liability offence for anyone who gives false or misleading information, or omits anything so as to mislead.
Mr Derrick Goh asked for factors of assessment before the exercise of powers to prohibit the entry or transit of foreigners. As I have mentioned earlier, we will only use such powers when the situation warrants it. The key consideration is whether such a restriction is proportionate to the severity of the situation. We have seen how in times of a pandemic, travel restrictions may have to be put in place at very short notice.
I shall move on to the proposals to strengthen our border controls.
Mr Derrick Goh asked for the number of cases and the costs unrecovered from repatriated persons over the past five years. From 2018 to 2022, there were 74 cases and more than $53,000 of Government-aided funds used for repatriation expenses. Most of the involved offenders genuinely could not pay their way; the rest were able to.
Mr Murali Pillai asked two questions on the proposed amendments to introduce fines in lieu of caning, for offenders exempted from or found medically unfit for caning. First, he asked why our amendment applies to offenders convicted of employing five or more immigration offenders, since they are likely to be Singaporeans.
To clarify, the law today requires offenders convicted of this offence to be caned. But for offenders who cannot be caned because of their age or sex, the current law also requires the Court to impose fines in lieu of caning. This is under section 57(1B), which we are not changing.
Our amendment does nothing more than extend this provision to males who are sentenced to caning for this offence but are subsequently found medically unfit for caning. This allows for the deterrent effect of the penalty to still be met without unduly expending our prison resources while the penalty is held in a suspended state. Such a move also ensures consistent treatment in offences where fines are imposed in lieu of caning.
Second, Mr Murali Pillai asked why there is no provision in the Bill to limit the length of the imprisonment term that the Court can impose on an offender who cannot be caned but defaults on the fine imposed in lieu. We agree with him, that in such cases, it would be ironic if the imprisonment for defaulting on a fine is longer than the prison term that could have been imposed in lieu of caning. Nevertheless, we have decided that this should be left to the Court’s discretion, looking at all the factors in each case. If the Court considers that an in-default imprisonment term is appropriate, it can also calibrate the length of the imprisonment. Section 319 only sets out the upper limit of the imprisonment terms that can be imposed and do not prevent the Court from imposing a shorter term.
I thank Mr Murali Pillai for the suggestion to digitalise the process of notification of Court orders and lodgement of written consent from the parent for a child to leave Singapore.
Currently, parties who wish to inform ICA of any Restraining Orders or provide their written consent can do so by simply emailing ICA at a stipulated email address. This is the process we have agreed with the Family Justice Courts and it is set out in the Family Justice Practice Directions. We will continuously explore new ways to make the process more efficient.
Mr Louis Ng asked if the facilities in ICA’s authorised area are appropriate for keeping a child. The new section 5AA seeks to give ICA ancillary powers to keep the child temporarily, while preventing the child from being brought out of Singapore by any person without the consent of the parent or guardian. While ICA facilities are not specially designed for a child, it will make all reasonable efforts to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. Whenever possible, immigration officers will ask that the travelling companion stays with the child until the child’s parent or guardian arrives. If a child is abandoned at the checkpoints, and the parent or guardian is uncontactable, ICA will hand over the child to the Police. Child Protection Services will also be involved if necessary.
Mr Murali Pillai spoke about the issue of fairness in dealing with foreigners and asked why there is a need to remove statutory appeals. Let me explain in greater detail.
As is the case in most countries, foreigners do not have the right to enter or remain in Singapore. That follows then that they should not be entitled to challenge the terms of their entry or stay under the law.
This position is reflected in our legal provisions regarding the issuance and cancellation of long-term passes and application for citizenship. There has never been a right of statutory appeal for such immigration facilities and this has also not prevented us from according the affected foreigners fair and reasonable treatment and protection from harm under prevailing laws.
The provision of statutory appeals for entry permit holders who are PRs is found in the Immigration Act 1959, an old piece of legislation dating back to the start of self-government. We are now simply updating and rationalising our laws so that the position for entry permit holders who are PRs is aligned with that of applicants for long-term passes and citizenship.
Let me also assure Mr Murali Pillai that we do not make immigration decisions in a cavalier manner. Like him, we are particularly sympathetic to foreigners with close family ties to Singaporeans.
Immigration decisions take into consideration a wide range of factors. In some cases, this includes sensitive intelligence information. As I mentioned earlier, each decision is also based on a polycentric evaluation of factors relating to our policies and security needs. While we understand the desire for explicit reasons to be provided, a blanket provision will be too blunt.
Instead, we will continue to allow foreigners affected by an immigration decision to make representations and to provide explanations to the authorities. As Mr Gerald Giam suggested, for certain decisions, ICA does advise affected persons in broad terms why a decision was made, for example, that his PR status was revoked because of his criminal offences.
Foreigners can continue to seek ICA’s reconsideration of the matter and ICA will escalate the matter for the Minister’s determination if appropriate. This approach strikes a better balance between the need to safeguard the public interest and our national security on one hand and fairness to foreigners affected by immigration decisions on the other.
Mr Louis Ng and Mr Gerald Giam asked about how affected persons can submit appeals. They can do so via a general feedback form on ICA’s website and it will be directed to the relevant immigration officers. In any case, I can assure them that even without a Member of Parliament’s representation, these appeals are attended to.
Mr Giam asked about the administration of the Pre-Marriage LTVP Assessment (PMLA). This is outside the scope of this Bill but we would like to assure the Member that the Registry of Marriages and the Registry of Muslim Marriages do provide to couples in person advice to complete the PMLA before marriage.
Mr Derrick Goh and Mr Gerald Giam asked immigration criteria can be made more transparent, including the assessment criteria for the renewal of the Re-Entry Permit. Mr Vikram Nair asked if we can give assurance to law-abiding PRs of their stay in Singapore.
As Members know, we do not disclose our detailed immigration criteria. The reasons are well-known and not new. They are also not the focus of today’s Bill.
Nonetheless, I should point out that the comparison with COMPASS neglects the important considerations and also important differences. I was the Manpower Minister when COMPASS was conceived. Its considerations are that employment pass holders may impact the workplace and employment pass holders are also mostly transient. But for PRs and Singapore Citizens, the applicants must be considered differently because PRs and Singapore Citizens are not transient and they impact the wider fabric of society. Therefore, the considerations must be more holistic and sensitive to long-term impact. We must also recognise the stronger incentives to game the system if the criteria were fully disclosed.
Be that as it may, we have shared the broad criteria that ICA considers, such as whether an applicant is gainfully employed, contributing to Singapore or has family roots here. PRs who have conducted themselves well and continue to be a resident in Singapore should not have much difficulty with the renewal of their Re-Entry Permit. I can assure the Members that the vast majority of applications for Re-Entry Permit renewal are approved.
To Mr Vikram Nair’s question, on average, 7,900 or less than 2% of the total PR population each year lose their PR status by being outside of Singapore without a valid Re-Entry Permit. Of those who appealed, the majority were successful as they had valid reasons for not renewing their Re-Entry Permit in time.
On the powers of the Controller to publish changes to permit and pass conditions on a prescribed website or by Gazette, Mr Louis Ng asked when such situations would arise.
There are many instances where ICA may impose conditions on permit and pass holders. For example, if an individual committed a minor offence or displayed adverse behaviour, ICA would notify the person individually that it will impose a condition that he shall not engage in such activities further or risk having his permit or pass cancelled.
However, there may also be situations where ICA is required to impose conditions en masse, for instance, during a pandemic. Given the large number of PRs and pass holders, it would not be practicable to contact each and every one to notify them individually. The Controller will then publish the changes on a prescribed website or by Gazette.
Mr Louis Ng rightly pointed out that many individuals may not know how to access a prescribed website or the Gazette. Hence, ICA will explore suitable avenues to reach out to as many affected persons as possible, for example, through media platforms.
Finally, in his concluding remarks, Mr Yip Hon Weng asked how congestion at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints can be improved. This is not the focus of the Bill today and I would draw the Member’s attention to ICA’s various announcements over the past months on its efforts. Nevertheless, I shall share broadly four key initiatives.
One, since January 2023, ICA has implemented the Automated Clearance Initiative to allow eligible foreign visitors to use the automated lanes for immigration clearance, without prior enrolment of their biometrics.
Two, ICA will progressively implement automated clearance for cars at the two checkpoints in addition to motorcycles, thereby reducing overall time taken to clear immigration.
Three, progressively from 2024, Singaporeans and departing visitors will no longer need to present their passports for immigration clearance and will instead verify their identity through biometrics, reducing clearance time in bus halls by up to 40%.
Four, over the longer term, ICA will redevelop Woodlands Checkpoint to enhance clearance for all types of vehicular traffic and reduce travel times, especially during peak periods.
Mr Speaker, to conclude, the Immigration (Amendment) Bill will facilitate the implementation of more digitalised and automated services for the benefit of all travellers, as well as enhance our immigration processes so that they are more robust, effective and efficient.
Once again, I thank Members for supporting the Bill. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.