Immigration & Checkpoints Authority’s (ICA) Workplan Seminar 2023 – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 05 May 2023

Permanent Secretary Pang Kin Keong, 

Senior Colleagues from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Home Team Departments, 

Commissioner Marvin,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.   This year we mark the 20th Anniversary of ICA’s formation.  

2.   The theme of this year’s Workplan Seminar is “Remembering Our Past, Securing Our Future”. 

3.   ICA in its current form is 20 years old. But your history goes back much further, to the 19th century. 

4.   At that time under the Colonial Government, there were three separate departments. 

5.   One, the Immigration Department, whose job was to quarantine and prevent contagious diseases, and control entry into the then-colony of Singapore.

6.   Two, the National Registration Department, which was in charge of registering the population and banishing troublemakers.  

7.   The two would later merge to form the Singapore Immigration & Registration (SIR). 

8.   Third, the Customs and Excise Department (CED) would check imported goods, and collect revenue on opium, liquor and tobacco.  

9.   The colonial government profited from drug trafficking. Today, we take a different view. 

10.   After independence, the operating environment became more complex. 

11.   Singapore saw rapid economic development, and with it, a sharp increase in the flow of goods and people through Singapore, and the rising challenge of illegal immigration and contraband. 

12.   And after 9/11, terrorism became a major concern. 

13.   So, in 2003, we merged SIR and the checkpoint functions of the CED to form ICA. 

14.   This created a single command responsible for securing our borders, and to help us better deal with the threats.

Remembering Our Past

15.   In the last 20 years, ICA has made significant progress on three fronts. One, at the checkpoints; two, at its services centres; and three, in people development. 


16.   First, at the checkpoints. I will cover three areas. One, immigration; two, other aspects of border security; and three, the general experience for a visitor. 


17.   Singapore is an open economy. ICA has to keep Singapore connected to the world, while minimising the risks posed by the movement of people and goods. 

18.   And to do this, the processes have to be continuously improved. 

19.   For example, in the past, the typical experience was after you present your passport, an officer would then check the passport, verify your identity by comparing against the photo, check if you are a bona fide traveller, and then stamp your passport. 

20.   Today, the experience is fully automated. 

21.   Multi-modal biometrics is also more secure than just having officers visually verify individual travellers’ faces. 

22.   And there is no stamping of the passport. Foreign travellers receive an electronic Visit Pass through email after clearing immigration. 

Border Security 

23.   Beyond just immigration, during the pandemic, ICA officers were the first line of defence, to try to prevent the virus from coming in. 

24.   But before COVID, those who are older may remember that ICA was put to its first test literally days after its formation in 2003, with SARS – which did not spread as quickly, but was more deadly. 

25.   Once SARS was detected in Singapore, ICA quickly built up health screening capabilities. For example, we used thermal scanners to screen passengers for symptoms, without choking up the checkpoints and developed contact tracing capabilities.

26.   Those experiences and capabilities helped when ICA had to respond to COVID.

27.   When the pandemic struck, work on the digital Singapore Arrival Card (SGAC) was already underway. So, ICA could quickly integrate health declarations into the SGAC, and our border clearance system, for better contact tracing. 

28.   ICA officers also dealt with the enforcement of Stay-Home Notices (SHNs). At one point, ICA was managing over 40,000 people on SHN – a tremendous load. 

29.   And the Safe Travel Office (STO) was set up to assess applications to enter into Singapore. The STO processed over 600,000 applications, consolidating the processes across multiple agencies into a single touchpoint.

30.   Beyond these, ICA has also expanded its role in checkpoints security, with the formation of the Integrated Checkpoints Command for stronger coordination across the Home Team (HT) forces at the checkpoints. 

31.   In January this year, ICA took over protective security functions from the Police at the land checkpoints. And ICA is now the First Responder to security incidents there, for example, if there were to be an armed attack. 

32.   To-date, more than 500 ICA officers have been trained to be proficient in both immigration clearance and to deal with security incidents.

33.   I think we can say, for the scale of its operations, ICA is certainly among the least resourced border agencies in the world, and also likely, among the most effective and efficient of border agencies in the world. That is a tough task, and I think ICA needs to be congratulated for that. 

General Experience at Checkpoints

34.   The third point on checkpoints that I would like to make today, is that the first point of contact for many foreigners who come into Singapore is really the ICA officers. So, for a very long time, I have been talking to ICA to say that when we go overseas – and we all have gone, and we all have had mixed receptions. And in Singapore, we want to make sure that that first experience when a visitor comes, is pleasant and smooth. The security aspect is one, but the person needs to feel that he or she is welcomed. And, we have to make sure that from that experience onwards, visitors feel positively about Singapore, and positively about their experience at immigration. 

35.   And ICA has looked at this seriously.

36.   Broadly now, the feedback is positive, and I encourage that we should continue along this trajectory.  

Service Centres

37.   Second, I will speak about service centres, ICA has significantly digitalised its services, to serve the public better. 

38.   Today, 100% of applications for key services can be made online. 

39.   This includes birth and death registrations, and passport renewals. 

People Development

40.   Third, ICA’s commitment to the development of its people. 

41.   After its formation in 2003, the ICA Academy was established to develop officers as border security professionals, and that has now expanded to become the ICA Training Command. 

42.   Currently, the Training Command conducts more than 50 runs of courses every year, with Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, simulation systems, and e-learning to make the training more realistic.

Securing Our Future

43.   That is where we are now.  

44.   But the challenges are increasing – not staying the same, nor getting less. 

45.   Today, ICA facilitates the clearance of more than half a million travellers every single day. 

46.   Our checkpoints will only get busier.

47.   Traveller volumes increased from 118 million in 2003, to 217 million in 2019.  And then of course it went down during COVID, but volumes are going to increase beyond 2019 levels, with the development of the RTS Link with Malaysia, and Changi Airport’s Terminal 5.

48.   For cargo, last year, ICA processed just under 10 million inward containers, consignments, and parcels. That is in addition to almost 50 million low value goods cleared – which was three times more than pre-COVID volumes. 

49.   There are also growing security threats to deal with, in the context of this cargo. 

50.   The threat of terrorism remains very real.  

51.   We never know when the next pandemic may strike.

52.   And, there is also a limit to how much manpower we can call on, given that Singapore has an ageing population.

53.   And really, the answer to all of these, is further transformation. 

54.   First, at the checkpoints, ICA’s New Clearance Concept will aim to make immigration clearance “Seamless, Secure, and Swift”. 

55.   Most travellers will use automated lanes when they enter and when they leave Singapore. 

56.   And by the end of this year, ICA would have rolled out about 600 next-generation automated lanes, known as the Automated Border Control System (ABCS). 

57.   The ABCS will replace the existing automated lanes and manual counters, and allow arriving visitors to be cleared automatically without them needing to be enrolled beforehand, using multi-modal biometrics. 

58.   For car travellers, it is more challenging to automate immigration clearance, but good progress has been made with the Automated Passenger In-car Clearance System, or APICS.

59.   This will allow car travellers to also enjoy an automated, contactless experience. ICA started trialling APICS last year, and the goal is to roll it out in the next few years. 

60.   When you move to services, ICA is moving to a “No Fuss, No Visit, and No Waiting” experience.

61.   Next year, the new integrated ICA Services Centre will be ready, and will provide a One-Stop Centre for the public to transact with ICA, replacing the three existing services centres for citizens, permanent residents, and visitors. 

62.   Customers will also be able to access and manage ICA-issued documents easily and securely, through the ICA website or the mobile app, MyICA. 

63.   And as we transform the checkpoints and services centres, the jobs of ICA officers will be upgraded to deal with more value-added work. 

64.   So, officers will progressively move away from static duties and immigration clearance at counters. 

65.   They will take on more diverse tasks that cannot easily be automated: responding to security incidents, they will profile and interview travellers, provide personalised service for those seeking immigration facilities, and so on. 


66.   ICA’s development over the years has only been possible because ICA has been, and remains: Agile, Bold, and, at its core, has officers who are continually being developed, with the ultimate commitment to serve our citizens whole-heartedly.  

67.   And I think we can all be confident that ICA will continue to deliver its mission as a world-class border and immigration agency, and we all look forward to its continued transformation. 

68.   I wish ICA and its officers a happy 20th anniversary.