All foreigners can use automated lanes at checkpoints from second half of 2024: ICA

More than 160 automated lanes were installed in 2023, with another 230 lanes to be set up in 2024. - ST

SINGAPORE: All foreign visitors to Singapore, regardless of their nationality, may soon clear immigration here at air, land and sea checkpoints using automated lanes from 2024.

They will be able to do this without having to register beforehand.

And when they leave Singapore, they will not have to present their passports.

Singapore will be the first in the world to do this.

In its release of its 2023 annual statistics, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said on Feb 13 this will be done in the second half of 2024 with the introduction of the next-generation Automated Border Control System.

ICA said the new automated lanes will progressively replace existing lanes and manual counters at checkpoints, enabling Singapore residents and departing visitors to clear immigration without having to present their passports.

More than 160 automated lanes were installed in 2023, with another 230 lanes to be set up in 2024.

The automated lanes are part of ICA’s New Clearance Concept to provide seamless immigration clearance for all travellers by using multi-modal biometrics that capture a person’s iris, facial and fingerprint details.

Currently, the automated lanes can only be used by Singapore residents and passport holders from 60 jurisdictions.

ICA said there was a significant increase in traveller volume in 2023, with almost 193 million travellers cleared across all checkpoints.

This is an 84 per cent increase compared with 2022, when it cleared about 105 million travellers.

The total number cleared for 2023 is still slightly lower than before the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 217 million travellers cleared in 2019.

However, ICA said the traveller volume at land checkpoints during the school and public holidays periods had exceeded pre-pandemic levels since the reopening of borders in 2022.

It said traffic flow through Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints saw nearly 13.6 million travellers cleared, averaging about 440,000 travellers daily.

There were about 400,000 travellers at the land checkpoints daily during such periods before the pandemic.

ICA added: “The experience of the travellers did not suffer and, in fact, generally improved, including in clearance times, due to the ICA’s ongoing transformation of border clearance through deploying more automated lanes and allowing more visitors to use these lanes.”

But with the increase in travellers, ICA saw more cases of contraband, forged travel documents and immigration offences.

Contraband cases went up by 23 per cent from 35,000 in 2022 to 43,000 in 2023.

Cases of forged and tampered travel documents tripled from 21 in 2022 to 65 in 2023.

And the total number of immigration offenders arrested rose 42 per cent, from 414 in 2022 to 587 in 2023. They included illegal immigrants and overstayers, with the latter forming 542 of the arrests in 2023.

There were also more harbourers and employers of immigration offenders arrested, from 226 in 2022 to 327 in 2023.

ICA said the rise in immigration offences could be due to the easing of travel restrictions and an increase in its intelligence-led operations, from an average of 40 a month in 2022 to 58 in 2023.

Other offences, such as those relating to marriages of convenience and multiple identity cases, saw slight decreases in 2023.

The number of people arrested for marriage-of-convenience offences dropped to eight in 2023, compared with nine in 2022. The cases involved foreigners marrying Singaporeans to enjoy immigration benefits here.

There were also 437 cases of persons having multiple identities detected upon their arrival in 2023, as compared with 441 cases in 2022.

Many involved immigration offenders, who had previously overstayed or were deported, using another passport or a passport with a different name.

They were caught when their biometrics were scanned, as ICA already had their biometric records from when they were previously in Singapore.

ICA said the total volume of cargo cleared had decreased.

It cleared almost nine million containers, consignments and parcels in 2023, an 8 per cent dip from almost 10 million in 2022.

The number of low-value goods, valued at $400 or less, that were cleared saw a 23 per cent decrease to about 38 million in 2023, compared with almost 50 million in 2022.

ICA said this could be due to more consumers returning to shopping at physical stores than during the Covid-19 pandemic period.

ICA said it was on schedule to transform and redefine its border operations and service delivery capabilities.

It installed more than 50 Special Assistance Lanes across Changi Airport, Woodlands Checkpoint and Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore in 2023, allowing travellers in wheelchairs and family groups of up to four people to clear immigration automatically.

It also implemented paperless clearance for conventional cargo at air, land and sea checkpoints in March 2023, allowing drivers and traders to clear their cargo vehicles in an average of five minutes, as compared with seven minutes previously.

ICA has digitalised close to 95 per cent of its services as at December 2023, with about 95 per cent of customers submitting applications through its website or via the MyICA mobile app.

And Woodlands Checkpoint will be redeveloped in phases over the next 10 to 15 years to improve immigration clearance for travellers and strengthen border security, said ICA. - The Straits Times/ANN

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