Mr Gautam Banerjee:
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs whether the Ministry has plans to review the law on mandatory caning of foreign workers who overstay as a result of rogue labour agents.
Also, to ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) in the last 12 months, how many foreign workers were caned for overstaying; and (b) whether caning of foreign workers, particularly if they are innocent victims of unscrupulous labour agents, will affect Singapore's relationship with the countries from which these workers come from.
Mr Wong Kan Seng:
Mandatory caning of at least three strokes for foreigners who overstay 90 days or more was introduced in 1989 to curb the immigration offender problem. Our experience prior to 1989 had shown that a mandatory imprisonment term of at least 6 months alone was not sufficiently deterrent. With the introduction of mandatory caning, the mandatory minimum imprisonment term was reduced from six to three months. In 1995, the law was again amended to remove the requirement of imposing a sentence of at least 3 months.
Mandatory caning remains a necessary deterrent in today’s context. Long term overstayers who stay here illegally pose social problems. In addition, not being able to work legitimately in Singapore, they may turn to crime. It is therefore necessary for our immigration laws to remain stringent to deter would-be immigration offenders.
The mandatory caning provision applies only to overstayers who have overstayed for more than 90 days, in other words, these are deliberate law-breakers. Foreign workers who are victims of scams, whilst deserving of support, should not overstay in Singapore or work illegally. Being cheated is not a valid reason for anyone, foreigners included, to break our laws. Instead, they should report their plight to the authorities immediately. In this way, they can work with Police to apprehend labour agents in Singapore who are involved in such scams.
This is one reason why MOM has stepped up its outreach efforts to educate employers and workers on our employment and immigration regulations. For example, it has published a guidebook in various languages which highlights the penalty of mandatory caning for overstaying The penalty of overstaying including mandatory caning for overstaying beyond 90 days is set out clearly under the section “Singapore Laws & You” of the guidebook.. This is given to workers at the Work Permit Services Centre when they collect their work permits. In addition, MOM conducts regular dormitory road-shows to reach out to foreign workers.
For these reasons, we do not think it is necessary to review the law on mandatory caning for overstayers at this point in time.
We do not track the number of foreign workers allegedly cheated by rogue agents who were subsequently caned for overstaying. In any case, we do not think that the caning of foreign workers will affect our relationship with the countries from which they come.
All persons, whether local or foreign, are subject to our laws and will be punished accordingly if they do not abide by them. This approach likewise applies to Singaporeans who commit offences in other countries. I believe countries whose nationals come to Singapore to work understand this principle. Our relations with them are good. For foreigners who are detained for overstaying, the authorities will facilitate consular assistance if they wish to speak to their consular representatives.