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Invisible Guardians - Meet the Peacekeepers of Singapore's Borders

Officers from Singapore’s Immigration & Checkpoints Authority have always worked from behind a veiled curtain to safeguard the country’s borders. With new technology and bright minds at work, even more so will the ICA be invisible yet ever-present.

In 2019, 217 million travellers crossed Singapore’s borders via air, land and sea.

They entered and exited the island for work, leisure and to visit loved ones. In the same year, 10.6 million units of cargo, from food and essential items to luxury goods, made way onto the country’s shores via air, land and sea. Every one of them – person or cargo – had to pass the keen inspection of Singapore’s highly-trained Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers.

As the invisible guardians of the nation’s borders, ICA officers are the first line of defence against those with sinister intentions looking to commit crimes and do harm.

Although the number of travellers fell to 42 million in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICA never lost its tempo. In fact, the number of units of cargo that crossed our borders increased by 3.6 per cent to 11.7 million units. At the same time, the pandemic expanded ICA’s role to include the implementation of border health measures at the checkpoints, Safe Travel Office, and enforcement of the Stay-Home Notice regime inland.

With e-commerce advancing and newer points of entry such as Tuas Port slated to open in phases over the next 20 years, the ICA is embracing innovative methods of detection and transforming the roles of its officers to ensure that Singapore’s borders are ever ready to take on the challenges of a constantly evolving operational landscape.

BY THE NUMBERS

In 2020, ICA’s continued enforcement efforts coupled with a decline in traveller volume saw a sharp fall in smuggling attempts and immigration-related offences.

TRAVELLERS
CLEARED

42.2 MILLION

PROHIBITED ITEMS DETECTED

41000

IMMIGRATION OFFENDERS ARRESTED

473

81%

decrease
from 2019

55%

decrease
from 2019

49%

decrease
from 2019

BY THE NUMBERS

In 2020, ICA’s continued enforcement efforts, coupled with a decline in traveller volume, saw a sharp fall in smuggling attempts and immigration-related offences.

TRAVELLERS
CLEARED

42.2 MILLION

81%

decrease from 2019

PROHIBITED ITEMS DETECTED

41000

55%

decrease from 2019

IMMIGRATION OFFENDERS ARRESTED

473

49%

decrease from 2019

A NEW ERA OF IMMIGRATION CLEARANCE

Safe, secure, seamless – this is the immigration experience ICA aims to provide all travellers passing through Singapore’s many checkpoints. In the past, arriving travellers would expect to clear through the automated lanes within 20 to 30 seconds, while those at manual counters are cleared within one to two minutes. With the new contactless clearance system, this process could be shortened to a mere 15 seconds.

By 2025, ICA is targeting for the full rollout of contactless immigration clearance to Singaporeans, residents and departing visitors. Automated clearance will become the norm for travellers entering and departing through the country’s checkpoints.

With the introduction of innovative biometric technology, data analytics and automation, the New Clearance Concept (NCC) will transform border control to efficiently handle the growing volume of travellers, while offering a safer, more secure and seamless immigration experience for all.

HOW IT WORKS

The New Clearance Concept is set to revolutionise Singapore’s borders.

Travellers are required to submit their personal and travel details electronically via the SG Arrival Card (SGAC) e-Service within three days prior to arrival
Next-generation automated clearance lanes equipped with iris and facial scanners to capture biometrics more accurately and efficiently
Electronic notification of Visit Pass (e-Pass) issued immediately upon arrival immigration clearance in lieu of physical inked endorsements on passports
ICA officers will be alerted via mobile tablets to those who require additional profiling and investigations

A game-changing component of the NCC is the introduction of the Automated Border Control System (ABCS). Equipped with iris and facial scanners, Singaporeans, Permanent Residents, long-term pass holders and departing visitors who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with ICA will be able to clear through immigration with just a quick scan. The contactless process offers a more hygienic, convenient and efficient immigration clearance compared to current fingerprint identification.

The electronic SG Arrival Card (SGAC) has also replaced the paper-based disembarkation/embarkation cards. Travellers arriving in Singapore can simply submit their SGAC online three days before their arrival and will only need to produce their passports for immigration clearance.

To enhance security, ICA will also be deploying Advance Passenger Screening (APS) using passenger information submitted through travel manifests. With the adoption of data analytics to conduct pre-arrival risk assessment on foreign travellers, ICA will be able to target and detect suspicious actors, combat terrorism and transnational crime more effectively.

With the introduction of the NCC, ICA officers will also see their roles transformed. With automated clearance being the norm, they will no longer be on static deployments. These Assessment & Investigation officers will instead be verifying traveller details on the move as they watch them pass through the automated lanes. With data-driven information at the tip of their fingers, acute profiling and investigation skills, and being able to do all these while on the go, ICA officers will be empowered to make quicker and more informed decisions in clearing travellers.

The next time you travel out of Singapore, you may wonder why there seem to be fewer ICA officers at the checkpoints. Rest assured, the invisible guardians of Singapore are more present than ever and dedicated to keeping the nation’s borders safe and secure.

MISSION UPDATED

ICA officers take on many challenging roles to keep Singapore’s borders safe and secure. Read the stories of three invisible guardians and learn what is needed to do their jobs.

ASSESSMENT & INVESTIGATION OFFICER

The New Clearance Concept is revolutionalising immigration clearance. Primary Screening Officers at immigration counters are having their roles evolve gradually into Assessment & Investigation Officers – tasked with profiling and assessing travellers on the go, based on data-driven information. Armed with mobile technology, they spot minute yet crucial details in data to intercept people with ill intentions. Do you pass the test?

FIRST RESPONSE TEAM OFFICER

Largely invisible to the eyes of the public, the ICA First Response Team is dedicated to protecting the security of Singapore’s borders from all kinds of immediate threats at the checkpoints. Always on the lookout and ready to spring into action, officers under this special force possess a specialised set of skills and mindset to deal with unanticipated situations. Are you ready to take on the challenge?

IMAGE ANALYST AND CARGO OFFICER

ICA’s specially trained team of Image Analysts and Cargo Officers prevent illicit smuggling and prohibited items from entering Singapore’s borders. With a keen eye for spotting anomalies in radiographic images, they form the invisible line that allows a constant supply of essential goods to enter, while keeping prohibited goods at bay. Do you have an eye for the job?


Protect Singapore’s borders and come face-to-face with real-life security challenges.

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