Commissioner of ICA
Officers of ICA
Ladies and Gentlemen
Checking the Borders
Countries all over the world impose border control in some form or other because they want to prevent undesirable persons, cargo and conveyances from going into their countries. In Singapore, immigration control was first introduced on 11 April 1919, through the Passengers Restriction Ordinance. Even in Singapore's pre-independence days, we were already concerned about controlling the arrivals and departures.
Welcoming Bona Fide Travellers
2. Singapore welcomes bona fide travellers, even as we police the border checkpoints for illegal entry. Each year, about 38 million travellers enter Singapore for work, study, or holidays.
Soaring the Winds of Change
3. Facilitating legitimate travel is as important as keeping out undesirable immigrants and goods. ICA has been working closely with its partners, such as the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Manpower, Singapore Tourism Board, Economic Development Board and SPRING Singapore, to implement various initiatives on facilitating visa, student pass and work pass applications to make the entry and stay of bona fide visitors easier.
4. One recent change is the shortening of visa processing time for independent travellers from 13 major cities in China. It usually takes about three working days to process a visa for these travellers. With this initiative which started on 21 April this year, the visa will be issued within one working day on receipt of the application in the morning.
5. Another change being made relates to letters of introduction required for Chinese and Indian visitors intending to visit Singapore for business negotiations. Previously, these letters of introduction had to be issued by Singapore-registered companies. In consultation with the Economic Development Board, ICA will also accept letters of introduction issued by selected companies from China and India.
6. In addition, from 10 November last year, citizens of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam holding ordinary passports no longer require a visa to visit Singapore if they stay in Singapore for not more than 30 days.
7. Since January this year, ICA has issued the relevant documents for 49,000 international travellers from various countries, here on business or study. ICA will continue to work with its strategic partners in easing requirements while keeping to its security objectives.
Keeping the Border secure
8. Enforcing border security is necessary to keep out those who want to harm our security. The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority was formed last year to enhance Singapore's border security against undesirable persons, cargo and conveyances through our land, air and sea checkpoints. Every ICA officer bears the responsibility of safeguarding Singapore and contributing to border security, especially since September - 11. There is no room for complacency as the terrorists can afford to fail many times, but just need to succeed once. We cannot afford to fail even once.
9. At the same time, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority also has to tackle the problem of illegal immigration. Last year, about 11,850 immigration offenders were arrested. This is a drop of 13 per cent from the previous year. ICA's efforts to deter immigration offenders from coming to Singapore are paying off. But Immigration & Checkpoints Authority officers have to keep up their vigilance.
10. Action and vigilance against contraband and illegal goods just as important. In the past year, ICA detected more than 12,000 cases of contraband and illegal goods that smugglers tried to bring into Singapore. These included offensive weapons, gun replicas and accessories. More chilling than vodka coming in under the guise of fruit juices is the possibility of explosives or related materials slipping through. We cannot afford to let that happen.
Having the Technological Edge
11. To control the borders effectively, ICA does not only rely on intensive checks, but also leverages on technology. A common ploy used by smugglers is to hide their contraband amongst innocuous items. For example, in a case recently uncovered by ICA, duty-unpaid cigarettes and uncensored discs were hidden among baskets of vegetables in a lorry. Similar methods are used in bringing in illegal immigrants. Some try to enter Singapore by hiding themselves in compartments of vehicles. Others assume false identities or make use of forged travel documents.
12. These attempts will get more difficult than even now, as ICA enhances its competency and capability by acquiring more equipment to enhance detection. Project Matrix, for example, helps ICA to scan the passports and travel documents of travellers for matching against blacklisted persons. EVA, which integrates three screening systems, namely the Entry & Exit Control Upgraded System; the Vehicle Entry Permit System, and the Automated Vehicle Screening System, will help to identify suspicious vehicles. The system will be fully implemented by the end of this year.
13. Strict enforcement at the checkpoints has made it difficult for people smugglers. Now, the people smuggling syndicates are trying out other ways of sneaking them in, such as asking the illegals to swim over on floats. As the syndicates try and think of new ways to beat the border checks, our law enforcement officers should innovate to stay ahead of the criminals. Only then can the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, as the guardians of our homeland, enforce border security effectively.
14. In conclusion, it is my pleasure to declare the ICA Workplan Seminar 2004 open and I wish you another successful year ahead.