SINGAPORE — Officers from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) cleared some 217 million travellers and 10.6 million consignments, containers and parcels in 2019, even as the number of immigration offenders arrested declined, said ICA on Tuesday (11 February).
This was about 5 million more travellers and 300,000 more cargoes cleared compared with 2018.
In a statement, ICA noted that the volume of travellers and cargoes passing through the Republic’s checkpoints has been increasing steadily. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of travellers and cargoes cleared by the agency increased by 10.2 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.
The increase in cargoes was mainly attributed to the increase in parcels, which grew 5.7 per cent from 6,141,276 in 2018 to 6,493,162 in 2019. “This reflects the growing popularity of e-commerce and online shopping, and the growth is likely to persist,” said an ICA spokesperson.
The agency said it would continue to look for innovative ways to facilitate the movement of people and cargoes, while ensuring that Singapore’s borders remain secure. These include redesigning and enhancing workflows, investing in better technology to support these enhanced workflows, and training ICA officers to harness such technologies.
For example, since December 2016, ICA has installed 164 automated clearance lanes at the Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints, which has helped increase the clearance speed of motorcyclists by a third. Contactless clearance trials also commenced at Tuas Checkpoint and Changi Airport last year to enhance clearance efficiency and better authenticate travellers’ identities.
Consequently, the proportion of travellers cleared through automated lanes increased from 49 per cent in 2017 to 55 per cent in 2019. This is expected to increase as ICA develops its New Clearance Concept, a suite of initiatives that will be rolled out progressively to transform the immigration clearance experience.
On Monday, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said that it expects visitor numbers to drop 25-30 per cent this year due to the coronavirus outbreak, with a significant decline in Chinese travel to the Republic expected to extend to other key markets.
"The situation this year will be at least as severe as SARS and possibly worse," said STB chief executive Keith Tan.
Immigration enforcement operations
Last year, ICA mounted more than 100 operations per month to detect and remove immigration offenders (IOs) from Singapore. The total number of IOs arrested in 2019 decreased by about 13 per cent, going down from 1,071 in 2018 to 932 the following year.
Specifically, there was a decrease in the numbers of overstayers (by 14.5 per cent) and illegal immigrants (by 2.3 per cent) arrested.
In the face of a growing traveller volume, the agency says it has kept the IO situation under control through a combination of enforcement efforts and technology such as a biometric identification system.
For example, a total of 56 Myanmar and Indian nationals found working illegally at cemeteries were convicted for overstaying and illegal entry into Singapore. 39 of them were arrested by ICA at the Choa Chu Kang cemetery during a series of operations that were conducted jointly with the Ministry of Manpower from February to November 2019.
The other 17 immigration offenders comprised illegally employed grave diggers arrested in the vicinity of other cemeteries, as well as those who surrendered to ICA because they were not able to continue their illegal employment due to the agency’s sustained enforcement efforts.
Marriages of convenience decreased
Fifteen persons were convicted for marriage of convenience (MOC)-related offences in 2019, representing a decrease of 53.1 per cent from the 32 persons convicted in 2018.
The number of MOC offenders has been decreasing steadily since the act of arranging or entering into a MOC was criminalised in 2012. A total of 284 MOC offenders were convicted in 2013, but the figure dropped to below 65 within two years in 2015.
Over the past three years, ICA has investigated and busted two elaborate webs of sham marriages organised by syndicates. The first case involved six couples and two masterminds, while the second involved 17 people in total, including one mastermind who arranged seven fake marriages.
For cases of foreigners engaging in MOCs with Singaporeans to obtain immigration facilities in the Republic, the penalties are a fine of up to $10,000 or a jail term of up to 10 years, or both.