Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of the Immigration (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information & Second Minister for Home Affairs

Published: 18 September 2023


1. Mr Speaker, 

2. I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time”.

3. The Immigration Act 1959 is the main legislation that regulates the movement of persons into and out of Singapore. It was last reviewed in 2018.

4. Since then, the landscape has evolved and there are trends that challenge our ability to exercise effective border control. 

5. First, traveller volume has continued to rise across all our checkpoints. It is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, and continue to increase thereafter. 

6. Changi Airport Terminal 5 is being built, and the Johor-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link will be ready in a few years. Our immigration systems must be able to manage this high and growing volume of travellers efficiently and provide a positive clearance experience, while ensuring our security. 

7. The added challenge is our ageing population and shrinking workforce. ICA will have to cope without a significant increase in manpower. 

8. Second, the unabated security threats, including terrorism, and pandemics like COVID-19, call for us to go upstream in our immigration measures, such as the collection of advance passenger and crew information, and entry restrictions to be imposed on undesirable foreigners, even before they arrive at our shores. 

9. To this end, ICA has reviewed its systems and concept of operations. One key initiative is the New Clearance Concept (NCC), where ICA will make good use of data analytics and automation for more secure yet efficient immigration clearance of passengers and cargo. For travellers and businesses, there will be time and cost savings from smoother and faster clearance, and for our land checkpoints, reduced traffic congestion as well. 

10. Mr Speaker, the Immigration (Amendment) Bill does not introduce major changes to our immigration policies. It is about putting in place provisions to better support and facilitate these new initiatives. 

11. The proposals in this Bill are categorised along four broad objectives:

(a) First, to digitalise and automate immigration clearance; 

(b) Second, to future-proof our immigration systems and processes against new and evolving challenges; 

(c) Third, to strengthen our border controls; and 

(d) Fourth, to enhance the administration of immigration passes and permits.

Key Proposals

Digitalising and Automating Immigration Clearance

12. Let me start with the first objective, to digitalise and automate immigration clearance.

Facilitate Conduct of Automated Clearance (Clause 3)

13. With automated clearance and the use of biometrics as the new norm, Clause 3 of the Bill will amend Section 5A of the Act to specify that a person may undergo immigration clearance using an automated clearance system, if available, but that he may also be required to appear before an immigration officer for immigration clearance after using the automated clearance system, if so directed.

Amendments to Facilitate Biometric-Enabled Departure Journey at Changi Airport (Clauses 41 and 42)

14. Next, to enhance the traveller experience at Changi Airport, the departure journey will be biometric-enabled, end-to-end, from the first half of 2024. 

15. Biometrics will be used to create a single token of authentication that will be employed at various automated touchpoints, from bag-drop to immigration and boarding. This will reduce the need for passengers to repeatedly present their travel documents at these touchpoints, allowing for more seamless and convenient processing. 

16. To facilitate this initiative, it is proposed that the Minister be empowered to authorise the disclosure of passenger and crew information to the airport operator for specific use cases, namely (i) bag drop, access control and gate boarding; (ii) passenger tracing within the airport for security purposes; (iii) offloading of baggage for passengers who did not board the flight; and (iv) verification of travellers’ identity and tax liability for duty free purchases and GST refunds. 

17. To this end, Clause 41 expands the definition of “passenger information” and inserts a new definition of “crew information”, while Clause 42 expands the list of purposes in section 36B for which the Minister may authorise access to, or disclosure of, identifying information, passenger information and crew information. 

18. ICA will ensure that the data shared under this initiative will only be used for authorised purposes, and that there are sufficient data privacy and security safeguards. The airport operator is also subject to the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 governing the collection, use and disclosure of the personal data.
Future-Proofing Against New and Evolving Challenges

19. The second objective is to future-proof our systems and processes against new and evolving public health and security challenges.

Collection of Advance Passenger and Crew Information From Transport Operators (Clauses 21–27)

20. Advance passenger and crew information enables ICA to conduct more timely risk assessments and flag out undesirable travellers, such as those who pose a public health or security threat, before they reach our checkpoints. 

21. Currently, a transport operator of a vessel, aircraft or a train that arrives, leaves or is due to leave Singapore, must furnish a list of passengers and a list of crew (including their particulars) to an immigration officer. Clauses 21 to 27 amend Sections 22 to 23B and introduce new Sections 23C, 23D, 23E and 23F to, among other things, impose requirements on the accuracy of the lists of passengers and crew furnished by transport operators, in addition to completeness and timeliness. 

22. These amendments will enable ICA to also collect passenger and crew information from bus operators, as well as the particulars of persons travelling through our land checkpoints via other modes of land transport such as cars, trucks or motorcycles, or on foot. Non-compliance will be a strict liability offence.

23. ICA is engaging relevant cross-border transport operators on the approach for the collection and submission of advance passenger and crew information. We will take their views into consideration before any new requirements are implemented. 

Empower Immigration Officers to Require All Persons to Furnish Particulars About Themselves (Clauses 28–31)

24. Separate from advance information, Clauses 28 to 31 amend Sections 24 to 26 to allow immigration officers to require all persons to furnish particulars about themselves upon arrival. This allows ICA to require travellers to furnish particulars such as their travel history or health status when the need arises. 

Empower the Controller of Immigration to Issue No-Boarding Directives (Clause 9)

25. Clause 9 introduces the new Section 9AA to empower the Controller of Immigration (henceforth, the Controller) to issue to one or more persons for an in-bound conveyance (which I will refer to as the transport operator for brevity), No-Boarding Directives, or NBDs, against undesirable persons, whether they wish to enter or transit through Singapore, to prevent them from boarding the in-bound conveyance at the point of departure. 

26. This will remove the need for ICA to manage and remove or repatriate such individuals when they arrive in Singapore. The Clause also introduces offences if a person arrives in Singapore in an in-bound conveyance despite an NBD being issued. NBD regimes have been implemented in jurisdictions such as Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Prohibit Arrival and Entry of Non-citizens on Grounds of Public Health (Clauses 7 and 8)

27. The COVID-19 experience has also demonstrated the need for powers to prohibit the arrival or entry of foreigners during a pandemic. Clause 8 amends Section 9 to clarify that the Minister is empowered to make such an order where the Minister thinks it is expedient to do so in the interests of public health.

28. Clause 8 also amends Section 9(1A) to provide that an order made on the grounds of public security or public health can apply to persons with valid immigration permits or passes, such as PRs or long-term pass holders. Such strict measures may be necessary in a severe pandemic situation where lives are at stake. They will be invoked sparingly. 

29. Currently, a person subject to an order made under Section 9 is a “prohibited immigrant” under Section 8(3)(o) of the Act. Any immigration pass or permit he holds is therefore liable to be invalidated on this ground. Clause 7 amends Section 8(3)(o) to expressly provide that the Minister may exempt an individual from this provision, so that he is not a “prohibited immigrant”. His permit or pass will not be invalidated by the operation of Section 8(3)(o), and he may return to Singapore once the order prohibiting his entry is lifted, for example, when the public health emergency has abated.

Offence and Tiered Penalties for Giving False Information (Clause 57)

30. Currently, it is an offence under Section 57(1)(k) of the Act for a person to make a false statement to obtain or attempt to obtain an immigration facility such as a permit or a pass. Clause 57 amends Section 57 to:
(a) Replace the Section 57(1)(k) offence with a new offence of knowingly giving information that is false or misleading, or omitting any thing, without which the information is misleading. This offence will be punishable with a fine of up to $8,000 or imprisonment of up to 12 months or both.

(b) Introduce a new strict liability offence under Section 57(1)(ka) for obtaining or attempting to obtain an immigration facility by giving such false or misleading information, which will be punishable with a fine of up to $4,000. 

(c) Provide that these offences apply even if the applicants had provided the false or misleading information while outside of Singapore. 

31. The amendments make clear that the applicants ultimately bear the onus of providing true and accurate information in their applications for immigration facilities.

Strengthening Border Controls

32. I will now speak on the third objective of strengthening border controls. The first group of amendments are on detention, custodial management, and repatriation. 

Directing Persons Who Are Denied Entry and Pending Removal to Remain at a Holding Facility (Clauses 28–31)

33. Today, immigration officers are empowered to examine persons arriving in Singapore. These persons may be denied entry for reasons such as invalid visas or expiring documents, and will be instructed to leave Singapore. However, it may take time for the necessary arrangements to be made for their departure, for example, the next available flight may be days away. Clauses 28 to 31 will amend Sections 24 to 26 to empower immigration officers to direct such persons to remain at an immigration depot or at a place designated by the Controller, until arrangements are made for them to leave Singapore.

Legislate Custodial Management Measures (Clause 56(c))

34. Next, to enhance legislative oversight over custodial management measures implemented at immigration depots, including the ICA lock-up, Clause 56(c) will introduce a new Section 55(1)(kb) to allow the Minister to make regulations for custodial management measures, such as medical triage and the control of unruly persons through the use of restraints. 

Allow the Controller to Designate a Place of Removal (Clauses 36, 37, 40 and 57(i))

35. Next, “prohibited immigrants” are currently liable to be removed to their country of birth or citizenship, their place of embarkation, or any other port or place designated by the Controller. Clauses 36, 37, 40 and 57(i) will introduce amendments to similarly empower the Controller to repatriate other categories of persons who have been ordered to be removed from Singapore, including “illegal immigrants” and “persons who remained unlawfully in Singapore”. 

Expand ICA’s Powers to Recover Funds, for Repatriation Purposes, From All Categories of Persons to Be Removed From Singapore (Clause 51)

36. Mr Speaker, ICA is currently empowered under Section 47A of the Act to recover funds from “prohibited immigrants”, to cover expenses incurred by the Government in connection with their repatriation. But it has to rely on moral suasion to do the same for the other categories of persons ordered to be removed from Singapore. 

37. Clause 51 will amend section 47A to rectify this anomaly. Nevertheless, ICA will assess all cases carefully, and government-aided funds may be made available to help persons who are genuinely unable to afford their own repatriation expenses. 

Arrest or Detain Persons or Vehicles Involved in Non-immigration Offences (Clause 55)

38. The second group of border control amendments seeks to facilitate ICA’s taking over of protective security functions from the Singapore Police Force at authorised areas such as the land checkpoints. 

39. Today, the Act only empowers immigration officers to stop and search persons or vehicles for immigration-related offences, or if an offence is committed within or in the vicinity of a checkpoint. For all other cases, police officers are needed to intervene, to stop such persons or vehicles of interest, and arrest them. 

40. Clause 55 therefore introduces new Sections 51AB to 51AE to allow immigration officers to arrest persons involved in such non-immigration cases and detain any vehicle driven by them or which is under their control, pending the handover of custody to the relevant law enforcement agency.

Allow Immigration Officers to Give Instructions to All Travellers Across All Checkpoints to Prevent Evasion of Examination (Clause 34)

41. Next, Clause 34 will amend Section 30 of the Act to allow ICA to give instructions to all travellers arriving in or leaving Singapore, to prevent evasion of examination. This includes asking travellers to queue at certain lines, or to proceed to a waiting area. Currently under the Act, ICA can only give instructions to arriving passengers and crew members carried in any vessel, aircraft or train.

Introduce Fines in Lieu of Caning for Exempted Offenders (Clauses 8(i), 58)

42. The third group of amendments pertains to immigration offenders who are either exempted from caning, or found medically unfit for caning. 

43. The Criminal Procedure Code 2010 provides that all females, as well as males above the age of 50 shall not be punished with caning.  In addition, caning cannot be carried out if the offender is medically unfit to undergo that punishment. Such individuals can be liable for an additional imprisonment term of up to 12 months, in lieu of caning. 
44. Some immigration offences attract caning. For foreigners who commit such offences but cannot be caned, such as if they are female, keeping them in our prisons for a longer term is not in the public interest. Our aim is instead to repatriate them as soon as possible. 

45. Incarceration is also not an appropriate deterrent against an immigration offender whose goal is to stay in Singapore, and even more so if the offender requires state-sponsored medical treatment. For such an offender, a fine, in lieu of caning, may be a more appropriate deterrent than additional jail time.

46. This is already the case for some offences in the Act. For example, for the offence of illegal entry without an immigration pass or permit, for which caning is mandatory, the Act requires the courts to impose fines in lieu of caning, for all females as well as males above the age of 50 who cannot be caned. However, for males who were sentenced to caning, but were subsequently found medically unfit for caning, the current law does not allow the imposition of fines in lieu of caning. To address this, Clause 58 of the Bill introduces a new Section 58A to allow the courts to impose a fine in lieu of caning on such an offender.

47. Clause 8(i) of the Bill will introduce a new Section 9(7), to allow the courts to also impose fines, in lieu of caning, for the Section 9(6) offence of arriving, entering or remaining in Singapore in contravention of a prohibition order by using a false travel document or a travel document belonging to someone else. This applies to all females and males above the age of 50.

Providing Immigration Officers With Ancillary Powers When Acting on Restraining Orders Concerning Children (Clause 4)

48. The fourth type of amendment will allow ICA to better ensure a child’s safety and well-being when acting on a Restraining Order issued by a court that prevents the child from being taken out of Singapore. ICA already enforces such a Restraining Order when notified of it. 

49. Clause 4 will introduce a new Section 5AA that allows ICA to temporarily keep a child within the immigration checkpoint, after having prevented the child from being taken out of Singapore, until the child’s parent or guardian, or a police officer, is able to take the child into his care. The new Section 5AA protects immigration officers from personal liability as long as they have acted in good faith and with reasonable care in complying with the court order or exercising this power. 

Enhancing Administration of Passes and Permits

50. Sir, I will now explain how the Bill enhances the administration of immigration passes and permits.

Removal of Statutory Appeals (Clauses 7, 12, 13, 16, 33 and 37)

51. Foreigners should neither be entitled nor expect to be given the right to enter or remain in Singapore. This must be the absolute prerogative of the Government acting in the public interest. 

52. To this end, Clauses 7, 12, 13, 16, 33 and 37 remove the right of a foreigner to make statutory appeals to the Minister for decisions made by the Controller affecting his stay in Singapore. Most of these decisions are related to permanent residency. This aligns the treatment of such PR-related decisions with the treatment for application of immigration passes and Singapore citizenship, for which there is no avenue of statutory appeal. 

53. Although statutory appeals will no longer be available, individuals can continue to seek the Controller’s reconsideration of such decisions when there are relevant new facts or circumstances.

Loss of PR (Clauses 2, 12, 13 and 17)

54. The Bill also seeks to clarify at law when a PR is deemed to have lost PR status.
55. The proposal before Parliament is specific to the scenario when the person is outside of Singapore without a valid Re-entry Permit. Let me explain.

56. ICA issues a PR with two permits. The Entry Permit is issued when PR status is first granted and allows the person to enter and remain in Singapore. The Re-entry Permit or “REP” is issued to a PR upon application, and allows him to re-enter Singapore after having left Singapore temporarily; it has a fixed validity period. 

57. ICA deems a PR who is overseas without a valid REP to have lost his PR status. In the current Act, the PR has a grace period of one month after the REP has expired to apply for an REP to reinstate his PR status. 

58. Notwithstanding this, ICA has been exercising flexibility in allowing some PRs who miss this deadline to have their PR status reinstated if they have legitimate reasons, for example, if they were hospitalised overseas. However, this means that the PR had effectively lost his PR status during the period between the REP expiry and PR reinstatement. 

59. This Bill will introduce amendments to the Act to clarify at law when the PR status is lost, by introducing a definition of “permanent resident of Singapore” and setting out the circumstances that will lead to the loss of PR status.   

(a) Clause 2 will define a “permanent resident of Singapore” as the holder of a valid Entry Permit.

(b) Clause 12 amends Section 10 to provide that a non-citizen who wishes to be a PR must apply for an Entry Permit, and sets out what the Entry Permit authorises its holder to do.

(c) Clause 13 amends Section 11 to require a PR who is outside Singapore without a valid REP to apply for an REP within a period to be prescribed in regulations. MHA intends to set this period at six months. This will give PRs sufficient time to remedy the situation, compared to the 1-month grace period today. 

(d) If the said PR applies for an REP before the end of the prescribed period, and is successful, he remains a PR. 

(e) If the PR fails to apply for an REP before the end of the prescribed period, the new Section 14A introduced under Clause 17 provides for the automatic cancellation of his Entry Permit. His PR status will then be lost. This will take effect on the date immediately after the last day of the prescribed period. 

(f) If the PR applies for an REP before the prescribed period ends and his application is unsuccessful, this new Section 14A also provides that his Entry Permit will be automatically cancelled, and this will take effect on the date immediately after ICA has rejected the REP application. 

(g) Clause 13 introduces Section 11(2A) to clarify that the Controller may refuse the grant of REP to a PR. Each REP application is subject to a polycentric evaluation of factors relating to our policies and security, the PR’s period of residence in Singapore, his contributions to Singapore, family ties, and conduct.

60. Given that six months is more than enough for PRs to regularise their status, there will be no avenue for reinstatement once a PR loses his PR status in accordance with the revised framework. If a person who has lost PR status wants to be a PR again, he will need to make a fresh application for PR. 

61. We encourage all PRs to obtain an REP or to renew their REP in a timely manner, before travelling out of Singapore. 

62. The vast majority of REP applications are approved as long as the PR continues to be committed and contribute to Singapore. This includes retired PRs because we recognise that while they may no longer be earning an income, they had contributed to Singapore during their working years. Most of those who are unsuccessful in applying for an REP to reinstate their PR have far exceeded the existing grace period for reinstatement despite the flexibility exercised by ICA. The rest do not live in Singapore anymore, no longer have family ties to locals here, are no longer contributing economically, or have adverse records. 

Simplifying Process for Varying Immigration Permit and Pass Conditions (Clauses 12, 13 and 56)

63. Sir, the Bill will simplify the process for imposing new conditions for immigration permits after they have been issued, or varying the existing conditions of such permits. Currently, ICA must first notify permit holders of any such changes in conditions, and invite them to make representations in this regard, before such changes take effect. Clauses 12 and 13 amend Sections 10 and 11 to allow such changes in conditions to be effected simply through the giving of notice to the affected permit holders. Clause 56 updates the Minister’s regulation-making powers, such that similar provisions may be introduced to provide the Controller with similar powers in respect of immigration passes and certificates. These provisions will allow ICA to impose new conditions on permit, pass and certificate holders especially during a contingency such as a pandemic, as well as to regulate the conduct of the holders more efficaciously through the variation of existing conditions.

Other Provisions

64. Last, the Bill also makes other technical, related and consequential amendments. 

65. In particular, Clause 61 repeals the Banishment Act 1959. MHA has been relying solely on the Immigration Act since the 1980s to remove undesirable foreigners. The Banishment Act, which also allows the Minister to remove a foreigner from Singapore, is no longer relevant today, and hence we propose to repeal it. There is no operational impact, and the provisions under the Banishment Act can be found in other legislation.


66. Mr Speaker, this Bill will facilitate the implementation of more digitalised and automated services for the benefit of all travellers, as well as enhance our immigration processes so that they are more robust, effective and efficient. This is imperative for Singapore’s safety and security, and to maintain our status as a world-class transport hub and destination.

67. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.