SINGAPORE: The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) cleared more cargo and low-value goods last year even as traveller numbers declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to official data released on Monday (Feb 8).
ICA cleared about 11.7 million consignments, containers and parcels last year, a 3.6 per cent increase from the total cargo cleared in 2019.
It also cleared about 21.2 million low-value goods through air cargo checkpoints last year, double the amount cleared in 2019.
The surge in cargo came as consumers turned to online shopping amid "circuit breaker" measures and travel restrictions, said ICA.
In contrast, traveller numbers fell 80.6 per cent to about 42.1 million last year as countries imposed strict border control measures.
READ: Visitor arrivals to Singapore plummet more than 80% in 2020, expected to stay weak amid COVID-19: STB
IMMIGRATION OFFENDERS DOWN
Together with ICA’s enforcement efforts, the decline in traveller volume resulted in a sharp fall in the number of immigration offenders as well as harbourers and employers of immigration offenders last year. Offences related to marriages of convenience also fell in 2020, said the authority.
The number of immigration offenders arrested last year fell to 473, almost half that of the previous year. The majority of these, at 416, were arrested for overstaying.
Harbourers and employers of immigration offenders also fell by 16.5 per cent to 279. In particular, the number of employers arrested fell by almost 35 per cent to 56.
Most of the immigration offenders employed by errant employers last year worked in the maintenance and food and beverage industries, said ICA.
"The majority of the harbourers and employers arrested had failed to exercise due diligence, to conduct the necessary checks on the foreigners’ immigration status, before employing them or renting out their premises," it added.
As for offences related to marriages of convenience last year, there were only six people convicted in 2020 compared to 15 the year before.
RISE IN CONTRABAND THROUGH LOW-VALUE GOODS
Overall, contraband cases detected on travellers also fell by more than half to about 41,000 last year, due to the drop in visitor arrivals.
However, there was an upward trend in the number of attempts to smuggle controlled items into Singapore through low-value goods.
There were 4,000 such cases last year, about five times more than the 610 cases detected in 2019. ICA said it was monitoring the trend closely given the increasing volume of low-value goods with the rise of e-commerce.
ICA said it also continued to detect "huge" consignments of contraband cigarettes and drugs hidden within legitimate consignments at checkpoints.
In some cases, offenders used "sophisticated" methods of concealment that included hiding cigarettes in metal cabinets, household items, cardboard boxes and in modified compartments of vehicles, said ICA.
"ICA will continue to watch these trends closely, as such smuggling modus operandi can similarly be used by terrorists to smuggle security-sensitive items such as weapons or explosives into Singapore," it said.
SUPPORTING SINGAPORE’S COVID-19 RESPONSE
ICA said it "expanded beyond its core responsibilities" last year to support the national response to COVID-19, including enforcement of the stay-home notice regime.
In all, ICA issued more than 280,000 stay-home notices last year. At the peak in April, it monitored more than 40,000 people placed under stay-home notice.
READ: More than 360 COVID-19 stay-home notice breaches and 130 quarantine order violations so far: MHA
Other enforcement measures included the establishment of the Stay-Home Notice Investigation Task Force in March last year, and the introduction of electronic monitoring wristbands for people serving their stay-home notice outside of dedicated facilities. More than 16,000 such wristbands were issued last year.
ICA also highlighted its initiatives to support Singapore’s evolving border control measures.
These included enhancing online services to cater to the increased number of applications for short-term visit pass extension, and enhancing the SG Arrival Card to enable submission of electronic health declarations and issuance of stay-home notice advisories.
ICA also set up a Safe Travel Office in August last year for better oversight of travel applications under the various travel schemes, and developed the SafeTravel portal as a single touchpoint for travellers.
ICA added that it was on track with the implementation of its previously announced new clearance concept from 2022, which aims to allow Singapore residents to clear immigration without needing to present a passport.
Announced in May 2019, the new clearance concept will leverage advance arrival information, data analytics and biometrics and also allow the majority of foreign visitors, including first-time visitors, to clear immigration at the automated lanes on arrival, without the need for prior enrolment of their biometrics.
"Even as ICA works towards reopening our borders progressively and safely, it will press on with its transformation efforts," it said.