SINGAPORE: The number of travellers and cargoes cleared by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) in 2019 was the highest in five years, the authority said on Tuesday (Feb 11).
In its annual statistics, ICA said it cleared more than 217 million travellers and 10.6 million consignments, containers and parcels last year. These are the highest figures for the past five years, said ICA Commissioner Marvin Sim.
There has been a steady increase in the volume of travellers and cargoes clearing checkpoints in Singapore. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of travellers cleared by ICA increased by 10.2 per cent, while the number of cargoes cleared increased 20 per cent.
ICA attributed the increase in cargoes mainly to the increase in parcels, which grew 5.7 per cent from 6,141,276 in 2018 to 6,493,162 in 2019.
"This reflects the growing popularity of e-commerce and online shopping, and the growth is likely to persist," said ICA.
Mr Sim said the volume of travellers and cargoes is expected to increase further.
In its annual statistics, ICA shared it would "continue to develop effective strategies and look for innovative ways to facilitate the movement of people and cargoes, while ensuring that our borders remain secure".
These include redesigning and enhancing workflows, investing in better technology to support these workflows and training ICA officers to harness such technologies, said ICA, citing recent efforts for smoother clearance.
Since December 2016, ICA has installed 164 automated clearance lanes at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints, which has increased the clearance speed of motorcyclists by 30 per cent.
ICA also began contactless clearance trials at Tuas Checkpoint in April 2019 and Changi Airport in November 2019 to enhance clearance efficiency and better authenticate travellers’ identities.
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ICA officers have also had to "rise to the challenge" of dealing with the threat of the novel coronavirus, said Mr Sim.
"ICA officers have been working tirelessly to implement and enforce tighter border control measures in response to the evolving situation, as they serve as the first line of defence against the spread of such infectious diseases.
"Whether in peacetime or times of crises, ICA will spare no effort to secure our borders and remain steadfast in our mission to keep Singapore safe and secure," he said.
FEWER IMMIGRATION OFFENDERS ARRESTED
In 2019, ICA mounted more than 100 operations per month to detect and remove immigration offenders (IOs) from Singapore. The total number of IOs arrested last year - comprising of those arrested inland and at checkpoints - decreased by about 13 per cent, from 1,071 in 2018 to 932 in 2019.
There was a decrease in overstayers by 14.5 per cent and illegal immigrants arrested by 2.3 per cent.
ICA said that it has kept the IO situation under control through a combination of enforcement efforts and use of technology, with its biometric identification system scanning all travellers’ fingerprints to more effectively detect IOs who are attempting to use someone else’s identity or a false identity.
"As ICA explores new technologies to enhance our immigration clearance, we are also enhancing our officers’ training to better equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to assess and detect IOs at the checkpoints," it said.
The total number of harbourers and employers (H/Es) of IOs arrested in 2019 decreased slightly overall by about 1.8 per cent, from 340 in 2018 to 334 in 2019.
However, the number of errant employers arrested increased from 58 in 2018 to 86 in 2019. The number of arrested harbourers of IOs decreased, from 282 in 2018 to 248 in 2019.
Most of the H/Es arrested had failed to exercise due diligence to conduct the necessary checks on the foreigners’ immigration statuses before employing them or renting their premises to the IOs, said ICA.
The IOs employed by errant employers were mostly working in the maintenance and F&B industries.
"IOs pose a security risk and may turn to crimes to sustain their livelihood in Singapore," said ICA.
"We seek the public’s and employers’ cooperation to deny IOs shelter and jobs, and to report suspected cases quickly to ICA. ICA will continue to work closely with other enforcement agencies to conduct operations against IOs hiding in non-residential premises like forested areas or cemeteries."
FEWER CONTRABAND CASES DETECTED AT CHECKPOINTS
The number of contraband cases detected at ICA’s checkpoints decreased by 14.4 per cent, from 107,771 in 2018 to 92,292 in 2019. Despite the decline, the quantity of contraband seized and referred to Singapore Customs has increased.
The average duty and GST that would have been evaded by offenders at the checkpoints per case increased by 13.2 per cent, from S$151 in 2018 to S$171 in 2019.
ICA said that in 2019, it thwarted a number of attempts to smuggle controlled items into Singapore through postal parcels and that it is monitoring this trend closely, given the increasing volume of parcels.
It also detected "huge" consignments of contraband cigarettes hidden within legitimate consignments at the land checkpoints.
In some of these cases, offenders used sophisticated methods of concealment to avoid detection including hiding the cigarettes in game machines, concrete blocks, paper rolls and in various modified compartments of vehicles, including in moving tyres.
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To address the challenges of inspecting consignments in large vehicles, ICA said it uses radiographic scanners to scan cargo vehicles.
Bus scanners were also implemented at Tuas Checkpoint in 2018. These scanners allow ICA to detect secret compartments and contraband items more effectively and quickly.
ICA also works closely with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX)’s laboratory network, which has the analytical capabilities to effectively detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) substances at Singapore's checkpoints.
FEWER CONVICTIONS FOR MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE-RELATED OFFENCES
The number of people convicted for marriage of convenience (MOC)-related offences in 2019 decreased by 53.1 per cent, from 32 in 2018 to 15 in 2019.
Over the past three years, ICA has busted two elaborate webs of sham marriages organised by syndicates, with the first case involving six couples and two masterminds, and the second involving 17 people in total, including one mastermind who arranged seven fake marriages.
ICA said it takes a serious view of foreigners engaging in MOCs with Singaporeans to obtain immigration facilities in Singapore, with the penalties being a fine of up to S$10,000, a jail term of up to 10 years or both.
Members of the public are encouraged to report any suspected cases of MOC as well as any other immigration-related offences to ICA at 1800 391 6150 or via the ICA website (www.ica.gov.sg).