ICA has tried to streamline processes for travellers entering Singapore as more make use of VTLs: Shanmugam
SINGAPORE: The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has tried to streamline processes as the number of travellers entering Singapore rises with the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme, said Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam on Friday (Oct 29).
ICA said it is also working with Changi Airport on the use of other arrival immigration halls for travellers.
Speaking at a virtual doorstop following his visit to the airport, Mr Shanmugam addressed complaints of delays for travellers entering the country.
He noted that travellers who submit the necessary information online prior to arriving in Singapore will have a smoother entry process.
“I think there will be a difference in experience between those who submitted their declarations online,” said Mr Shanmugam, who observed the process for passengers arriving on a London flight on Friday morning.
He added that those who had done so and used the automated lanes, which were reopened on Friday, took about 20 seconds to 30 seconds to pass through immigration, before being subjected to on-arrival COVID-19 testing.
Mr Shanmugam said that those who used the manual lanes took about eight to 10 minutes.
Four vaccinated travel lane flights arrived from Copenhagen, Milan, London and Los Angeles on Friday morning, said Mr Shanmugam. They had arrived on schedule, so there was no "bunching up" of flights, he added.
However, there was an instance last week where five flights arrived and it took about 90 minutes to clear them.
“Sometimes, flights don’t come on time," said Mr Shanmugam.
"We had just opened VTLs, many passengers hadn’t pre-filled their forms, they queued up, they added to that time, they had to be pulled out, questions had to be asked of them, they had to fill up the forms, they had to be helped, they had to rejoin the queues. So, all these added up,” he explained.
“[There were] many flights, and we had more processes then, more questions to be asked, I think it took about 90 minutes or so to clear the flights.”
He pointed out that when the extended VTLs were first opened on Oct 19, there were delays as those who did not pre-fill information queued up with everyone else, resulting in a delay for them and for others.
“Since then, we have tried to streamline the processes. I think travellers generally are more aware of the need to pre-fill, so that the experience will be better for them. And automated lanes should help for Singaporeans and PRs,” he noted.
“But with increase in traveller volume, requirement for testing, clearances may take longer, and particularly if several flights arrive in quick succession.”
In pre-pandemic times, when flights arrived at the same time, there was the flexibility to move passengers to different lanes and different parts of the airport, noted Mr Shanmugam.
“Now, of course, there are more constraints. But pre-COVID, sometimes it can take you 40, 45 minutes, depending on the number of passengers."
Mr Shanmugam noted that testing on arrival at Changi Airport adds an additional 20 to 30 minutes waiting time. This process was a question of a country’s “risk tolerance”.
“If you are coming from low-risk countries using VTLs, we do on-arrival testing. That can add another 20, 30 minutes. There are other countries, other airports which don’t do it. Heathrow, for example, does not do on-arrival testing, so of course the experience for the traveller is better,” he explained.
“But, there is a difference in risk tolerance. Here, we also make a difference between countries according to risk tiering, and that adds a further layer of checks.”
Mr Shanmugam also praised the efforts of ICA officers and thanked them for their hard work.
“Our ICA officers have been at the frontline since the outbreak last year. And with the reduction in travel, they were redeployed to other duties for more than a year … They are amongst the frontliners working hard to keep the rest of us safe, doing many things, while being exposed to COVID risks as frontline staff. It has been a very tough period for them,” he told the media.
"I know most Singaporeans understand the pressure that our officers are under, (and) support their good work. So, I came here to show our appreciation for what they do, spoke with some officers, told them to keep in good cheer, not to let some complaints affect them, do their work, and we will continue to look at processes to see how we can improve.”