Cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia kicks off

Malaysian workers at a factory in Kallang arrive at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint on Aug 17, 2020. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
The Woodlands Causeway as viewed from Singapore at 8.30am on Aug 17, 2020. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Factory operator Nurul Hidayah Norezan was among dozens of Malaysians who made their way across the Causeway to Singapore on Monday (Aug 17), as the two countries' cross-border travel arrangements kick in.

As there is no public transport plying the 1km-long Causeway, Ms Nurul, 28, joined others in making their way on foot in the early hours of the morning. The journey took a little longer than usual at over an hour as they were walking with luggage in tow.

She used to commute daily between Singapore and Johor for her job here, but has been away from it since March, when Kuala Lumpur decided to close Malaysia's borders to stem the spread of the coronavirus, catching her and thousands of Malaysians off-guard.

Ms Nurul told The Straits Times at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint: "I'm excited to be back to work again but at the same time I'm sad that I'll be separated from my one-year-old child. It was difficult parting from him but at least I know he'll be in good hands."

Her mother will be taking care of her only child, she added.

Dozens of Malaysians were also leaving Singapore on Monday morning to go back to their home towns.

Hotel worker Mr Muhd Shafii Muhd, 40, was excited to see his family in Johor Baru after five months of being separated from them.

He said that his employer has allowed him to take the rest of the year off under a no-pay leave scheme and he will only return to his job here in January.

"I have been waiting for this for a long time. I miss my family a lot. The first thing I am going to do is spend time with my family, that's the most important thing... money can wait," he said.

The resumption of cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia takes place under two schemes: the reciprocal green lane (RGL) for travellers on shorter visits, and the longer-term periodic commuting arrangement (PCA).

The RGL facilitates short-term travel for essential business or official purposes between both sides for up to 14 days, while the PCA allows Singapore and Malaysia residents who hold long-term immigration passes for business and work purposes in the other country to enter that country for work.

The arrangements allow employers to travel for essential meetings and give workers opportunities to see their families more often.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesperson from Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said systems for receiving PCA and RGL applications are working well and companies have started to submit their applications.

"Government agencies will continue to ensure that the reopening of our borders is done in a careful and calibrated manner, while balancing economic interests and safeguarding public health."

Over in Malaysia, Johor Immigration director Baharuddin Tahir said on Monday applications under RGL and PCA are fully booked from now until Aug 21.

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said last month that 2,000 Malaysians and Singaporeans are allowed to cross daily under PCA while under RGL, only 400 Malaysians and Singaporeans can travel to and fro between the two countries a week.

As of 10am Monday, about 300 people had crossed the Malaysia-Singapore border in both directions, said Johor Public Works, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee chairman Mohd Solihan Badri.

Mr Solihan told The Straits Times that a free shuttle service has been provided for those with no transport to cross the Causeway. The service started at 5pm on Monday and will ferry passengers between the Johor immigration checkpoint and the Singapore border on the Causeway.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 300,000 travellers used the Causeway every day. Among these were about 100,000 Malaysians who commuted daily between Singapore and Malaysia.

These days, there are some Malaysians who have decided to stay put, citing family commitments and the onerous requirements of the PCA scheme.

Nurse Cindy Ong who is in Johor Baru after returning in December last year to give birth said she will not be going back to her job in Singapore yet because she cannot bring her baby with her.

Her husband followed suit, returning to Johor Baru three months later. "As of now, we get by with our savings. My husband is also helping out a friend's business. We are hoping borders will be reopen to allow for daily travel so that we can resume our work in Singapore," she said.

Marketing manager Steven Tan, 39, who is currently in Singapore, felt it was a hassle to apply for the PCA scheme.

"The quarantine process both in Malaysia and Singapore is a deterrent for me. I can't take so many days off just to go back and not do anything," he said.

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