COVID: ‘Boyfriend/girlfriend’ entry category removed after abuse – Shanmugam

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Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. (SCREENSHOT: Ministry of Communications and Information/YouTube)
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. (SCREENSHOT: Ministry of Communications and Information/YouTube)

SINGAPORE — The “boyfriend/girlfriend” category for entry into Singapore that was introduced during the pandemic had to be removed due to cases of abuse by applicants, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Monday (26 July).

Speaking in Parliament, Shanmugam was giving the background about the category in response to parliamentary questions on the enforcement actions against illegal KTV operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The category came into the spotlight when the first woman who was linked to the growing KTV COVID-19 cluster entered Singapore via the category under the Familial Ties Lane in February. Her application was sponsored by a Singaporean who was her boyfriend. The cluster is now the second largest ever since the start of the pandemic, with 243 cases as of Monday.

Singapore banned short-term visitors at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. In October last year, the authorities introduced flexibility to allow boyfriends and girlfriends sponsored by Singaporeans into Singapore. Shanmugam told the House that there were 120,000 marriages between Singaporeans and non-residents from 2000 to 2019, or about a quarter of marriages during the period.

The category was specifically introduced in the context of the ban on short-term visitors to allow Singaporeans who are in relationships with their foreign partners to be reunited as they had been separated for a long time, Shanmugam explained.

In March this year, the “boyfriend/girlfriend” category was removed. A month earlier, the local authorities suspended the Unilateral Opening between Singapore and Vietnam, which meant that short-term travellers from Vietnam could not enter the city-state.

“We created this category – boyfriend-girlfriend – during the pandemic last year October because we wanted to be compassionate…We did want to try and be compassionate and helpful because of the number of appeals,” Shanmugam said.

A number of the applications under the category had raised concerns, said Shanmugam. He cited several examples including a Vietnamese applicant and multiple sponsors claiming to be the woman's boyfriend, Singaporean sponsors who applied for multiple girlfriends, and sponsors who applied but were already married.

“But if the system is abused, then we have to stop it...But unfortunately what that has meant is that many legitimate applications are now being refused,” Shanmugam said

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority had taken action over the incidents of abuse by rescinding the approvals, barring the travelers from entry into Singapore, and suspending the sponsors and travelers from future applications, he added.

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