Couples separated by Covid-19 border controls reunite after 9 months

Ms Priscillia Lau with her American partner Cory Loo in New York, in June 2019. PHOTO: MS PRISCILLA LAU

SINGAPORE - After more than nine months of separation because of Covid-19 border controls, Singaporeans and permanent residents who are in relationships with foreign partners are finally being reunited.

About a month ago, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) added a new "spouse-to-be" category in the application form for foreigners who wish to enter Singapore amid the pandemic.

It allows foreigners in relationships with Singapore citizens or permanent residents to come here on a short-term visit pass even if they are not married.

The Straits Times contacted the ICA but it did not provide details of the requirements for a visa to be approved under the new category.

In a statement, it said it will "generally be facilitative of foreigners who are immediate family members or relatives of a Singapore citizen or permanent resident, or a spouse-to-be of a Singapore citizen or a PR".

It added that the duration of stay granted will be assessed and determined at the point of entry.

A check on the authority's website did not reveal any indication that proof is needed of the relationship. The online form states that both parties must provide their details in the application.

Prior to the introduction of the new category, only foreigners who are immediate family members or relatives of Singapore citizens or permanent residents were allowed to enter the country. Those facing extenuating circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, could also be given permission.

Those who have successfully applied under the new spouse-to-be category said they were told to pay for a Covid-19 test, as well as for a 14-day stay at a dedicated facility to serve their stay-home notice (SHN), within three days of the approval.

After paying $2,200 per person, they are given a four-day window by the ICA to enter the country.

Ms Priscillia Lau, a recent graduate of Columbia University in the United States, said her American partner of 17 months arrived in Singapore from New York on Sunday.

He is now serving his SHN at InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay and can remain here for up to 90 days.

Ms Lau, 24, a civil servant, who has been back in Singapore since June, was initially not optimistic about her partner's prospects of entering the country as the US has been experiencing five-digit new infections a day since March.

But it took only a week for his short-term visit pass application to be approved on Oct 23.

"I couldn't pick him up at the airport when he arrived, but we'll finally get to see each other after nine months," she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Rashida Rahman has not met her English fiance who lives in Birmingham, England, in the past 10 months, and their reunion continues to be put on hold.

He was last here in January.

"We are grateful to the Government for giving us the flexibility to bring our partners over, but $2,200 is no small sum, on top of having to pay for plane tickets. We are waiting for a travel bubble between Singapore and Britain so that there's no need to quarantine," said Ms Rahman, 48, a secretary.

Britons and Americans are allowed to leave their own countries, with some restrictions.

Separately, Ms Ashley Toh, a 30-year-old educator, said her South Korean fiance would have to be quarantined for two weeks in Singapore and another two weeks when he returns to South Korea.

"That's a month of SHN in total, which his work is not able to accommodate," she said.

The couple were going to tie the knot here in May but had to cancel their wedding plans because of the pandemic.

Many like Ms Toh have sought support through a Facebook group called Love is Not Tourism Singapore, which has over 570 members.

The group is one of many that have sprung up over the course of the pandemic as international couples are forced to stay apart.

"The group has offered me immense support... all of us in similar situations are experiencing the same pain of not knowing when we will see our partners again," said Ms Toh.

"But everyone has been very forthcoming in offering advice and celebrating together when someone gets approved to come over."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.