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.
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.
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.