Second Reading Speech on the Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2017 by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Manpower

Published: 08 January 2018

A.     Introduction


1.     Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time".


2.     The Immigration Act (IA) regulates residents and visitors' entry into Singapore, their stay here, and exit from Singapore. 


3.     The last major amendment to the IA was in 2012. Since then, the security threat has heightened significantly, including at our checkpoints, which are unfortunately, attractive targets for terrorists. The checkpoints are also our first line of defence against terrorist threats, which emanate from outside Singapore.


4.    For example, overseas airports have been targeted. In March 2016, a suicide bombing at Brussels Airport killed 17 persons. Just three months later, gunmen armed also with explosive belts attacked Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, killing 45 persons.


5.     In addition, traveller volumes at our various checkpoints have been increasing. We now expect over 200 million people to go through our air, land and sea checkpoints each year.


6.     Checkpoint operations have thus become increasingly complex and challenging. 


Integrated Checkpoints Command


7.     To enhance border security and optimise Home Team (HT) resources deployed at the checkpoints, the Integrated Checkpoints Command or ICC was introduced in 2015. 


8.     The ICC strengthens coordination among Home Team Departments (HTDs) by putting them under a unified command at the respective checkpoints, what this means is that all HT officers working at the checkpoint report to the same Commander. This arrangement facilitates joint operations at the checkpoints, communications and information sharing, and allow synergies to be reaped.


Enhancing HT's Operational Effectivenessat Checkpoints


9.     To enhance the HT's operational effectiveness at the checkpoints, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers will play a bigger role to support Police officers to provide protective security. This will enable the HT to more effectively prevent security incidents at the checkpoints, and respond more swiftly when they do occur.  To achieve this, we need to expand the range of powers available to ICA officers to discharges their duties effectively at the checkpoints. 


B.     Key Clauses


B1.     Powers to Enhance HT's Operational Effectiveness at Checkpoints


New Section 51AA Provides for Enhanced Powers for ICA Officers within or in the Vicinity of Authorised Areas


10.     Clause 4 of the Bill introduces a new Section 51AA, which will provide ICA officers with enhanced powers relating to search and seizure, arrest and security screening, within or in the vicinity of Authorised Areas. 


11.     Authorised Areas, as defined in the IA, generally refer to the air, land, and sea checkpoints in Singapore.  These include Changi and Seletar Airports, Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints, Singapore Cruise Centre and the Marina Bay Cruise Centre.


Expanded Powers of Search


12.     Currently, ICA officers mainly rely on existing powers under the IA and Customs Act to conduct searches of vehicles, trains, vessels or persons, examine individuals, seize evidence and arrest persons.


13.     Police officers, on the other hand, are empowered to conduct searches on an individual only if the person has been arrested, or if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the person has committed certain offences where the laws specifically allow for searches. These include possession of arms and explosives, possession of an instrument likely to cause hurt, and possession of controlled substances or evidence of drug offences.


14.     However, existing powers are not sufficient to protect the checkpoints in today's security climate.  For example, ICA officers are not able to search a person suspected of carrying an offensive weapon if he or she is not in the authorised area but are instead in public areas of Changi Airport, or at the bus-stop outside Woodlands Checkpoint.  To be more effective, the powers have to be expanded so that ICA officers can intervene in any suspected security incident within or in the vicinity of the checkpoints. On the ground, this will allow any ICA officer nearest to a security incident at the checkpoints to be the first responder.   


15.     Furthermore, ICA and Police Officers need to have wider powers of search to intervene more decisively to deal with criminal and security incidents.  For example, Police Officers today are not empowered to search suspected vandals even if surveillance cameras or other security sensors at the checkpoints have been damaged; the suspect must first be arrested before he can be searched. That is the existing law. Clause 4 will therefore expand and allow ICA officers and Police officers to search individuals if there is suspicion of the commission of any offence within or in the vicinity of the authorised areas.  This is necessary for ICA and Police officers, whoever is nearest to an incident at the checkpoints, to pre-emptively and more effectively detect and address criminal and security threats at the checkpoints.


Other Proposed Powers for ICA Officers similar to Powers Available to Police Officers


16.     The other powers in Clause 4 which will be extended to ICA officers operating within and in the vicinity of Authorised Areas are similar to existing powers accorded to Police officers under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).


17.     ICA officers will be empowered to arrest the individual if he is reasonably suspected to have committed an arrestable offence under Singapore laws. Similar to what I have explained earlier, this will enable ICA officers to respond to any security threat without having to wait for the arrival of Police officers.


18.     For non-arrestable offences, ICA officers will only be able to arrest an individual if the person refuses to give his or her name and residential address, or if the person gives a name or residential address believed to be false, or gives an overseas residential address. This is similar to Section 65 of the CPC.


Procedure Following Arrest


19.     Post-incident investigations, including the prosecution of the arrested persons in the Courts, will remain the Police's responsibility. Under the new Section 51AA (12), once ICA officers have made an arrest, they will have to hand over the accused to a Police officer as quickly as possible, for Police to commence their investigations.


B2.  Collection of Personal Identifiers from Transit Passengers and Applicants for Singapore Visas


20.     I will now move on to Clause 5. 


21.     Clause 5 of the Bill amends Section 55(1)(ga) to allow ICA to collect personal identifiers, such as photographs, from travellers transiting through Singapore. 


22.     This will allow ICA to screen transit passengers more effectively, to better detect travellers of interest. 

23.     Clause 5 will also make clear that ICA has the power to collect personal identifiers from Singapore visa applicants, including photographs and other biometric identifiers.


B3.  Increase the Quantum of Penalties for Breach of Regulations under the IA


24.     In addition, Clause 5 amends Section 55(1)(k) to increase the quantum of penalties that the Minister may prescribe for the breach of regulations under the IA


25.     Both the National Registration Act (NRA) and IA govern the proper registration of persons in Singapore, for identification and security purposes. However, the maximum penalties that the Minister may prescribe for the breach of regulations under the IA are significantly lower than those under the NRA.


26.     Clause 5 of the Bill will thus amend section 55(1)(k) of the IA to increase the maximum quantum of penalties that the Minister may prescribe for the breach of regulations under the IA, to an imprisonment term not exceeding two years, or a fine not exceeding $3,000, or both. This will align the maximum penalties for breaches of regulations under the IA with that under the NRA.


C.  Conclusion

27.     Mr Deputy Speaker, in conclusion, this Bill will strengthen the security of our checkpoints, by enhancing the overall operational effectiveness of the Integrated Checkpoints Command.


28.     Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.


Law and order
Immigration and Checkpoints Security