A new biometric fingerprint scanning system at the two checkpoints going into Johor Bahru caused major traffic jams over the weekend.
Both the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints saw snaking queues of cars from Malaysia customs all the way into Singapore. In some cases, motorists had to wait up to seven hours before they cleared JB customs, reported The Straits Times.
The system, implemented four days ago, could not cope with the higher-than-usual number of tourists heading to Malaysia due to the weekend and June school holidays.
The immigration clearance took as long as five minutes for each tourist, five times longer than the Immigration Department's target of one minute per tourist.
The new system requires foreigners entering and leaving the country to have their left and right index fingers scanned at entry and exit points, while tourists only needed to have their passports stamped previously.
Many tourists took at least 90 minutes to pass through immigration, forcing many of them to change or scrap their holiday plans.
S. Karasima, 55, who booked a one-day visit to Malacca with a tour group, said the trip was cancelled and the group went on a tour of Johor Baru instead after he got stuck at the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint at Johor Bahru.
"It is unreasonable to make us wait for so long for immigration clearance. Do you have any idea how tiring it was to stand for almost two hours just to get through Immigration?," he said to Malaysian newspaper, the New Straits Times.
It was the same situation as well over at the Tuas Second Link checkpoint, with most cars and buses taking about 150 minutes just to reach the complex in Malaysia.
Checks with local tour guides showed about 60 tour coaches at Johor Bahru and 100 at the Second Link were affected by the delays. About 6,400 tourists were affected, most of them Singaporeans and Japanese.
Malaysia Tour Guides Council president Jimmy Leong told the same paper the snarling traffic delay was a serious blow to Malaysia's tourism industry as tourists would have a bad impression of the country.
According to him, while it usually takes about 20 minutes for each coach to get clearance, it took 90 minutes on Sunday, and this excludes the waiting time each coach to reach the complex from the Causeway.
"My Japanese customers are so angry that they blamed me for not informing them about the situation at the checkpoint. They were supposed to reach Malacca by 12.30pm. However, they only managed to have their passports stamped at that time.
"Their one-day Malacca tour was scrapped as a result of the delay."
Immigration Department director-general Datuk Alias Ahmad urged travellers to be patient with the new security system, which is aimed at curbing transboundary crimes and terrorism threats, as they ironed out the problems.
"For some people, it takes only a minute. For others, it takes about two to three minutes. We welcome feedback and will improve the system as soon as possible."
Alias also urged Singaporean motorists to apply for the Malaysia Automated Clearance System at any Immigration office for faster immigration clearance as they do need to have their fingers scanned after their first visit.