SINGAPORE - More travellers are gaining entry to Singapore using automated lanes at immigration land checkpoints, with 55 per cent doing so in 2019, as compared with 49 per cent in 2017.
This is because more measures have been put in place to facilitate automated clearance rather than through an officer, according to an annual statistics report released by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Tuesday (Feb 11).
The infrastructural improvements include the installation of 164 automated clearance lanes at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints, which have helped speed up clearance for motorcyclists by 30 per cent.
In addition, the ICA began contactless clearance at the checkpoints in April and November last year, which has made the process even quicker.
The level of automation will go up even more by 2022, as the ICA develops its New Clearance Concept for an automated border control system.
Based on iris and facial biometrics, the system will allow Singaporeans, and eventually registered foreigners, to pass through immigration gates without needing to produce their passports.
This increase in the use of automation and technology for immigration clearance comes as the agency processed over 217 million travellers and 10.6 million consignments, containers and parcels coming into Singapore in 2019. This is about five million more travellers and 300,000 more cargo items cleared than in 2018.
These new numbers mark as well a 10.2 per cent increase in travellers and 20 per cent increase in cargo handled by the ICA, in comparison to numbers last reported in 2015.
"The volume of travellers and cargo is expected to increase further. ICA has embarked on a multi-year transformation plan, leveraging technology and upskilling our people, to better safeguard our borders whilst enhancing the facilitation of the movement of people and goods," said ICA Commissioner Marvin Sim.
"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."
The ICA also mounted more than 100 operations per month last year to detect and remove immigration offenders from Singapore. The number of such offenders arrested fell by 13 per cent last year, with 932 cases in 2019, down from 1,071 in 2018.
One case involved 56 Myanmar and Indian nationals working illegally at cemeteries who were convicted for overstaying and illegal entry into Singapore.
The ICA arrested 39 of these offenders at Choa Chu Kang cemetery during a series of raids jointly conducted with the Ministry of Manpower. The other 17 illegally employed grave diggers were arrested in the vicinity of other cemeteries, while several surrendered to the ICA directly.
In another case, officers at Tuas Checkpoint became suspicious when they detected anomalies in concrete blocks being carried by a Malaysia-registered lorry. Drilling holes in the blocks, the officers discovered 12,479 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes encased inside - the the largest haul of duty-unpaid cigarettes uncovered by the ICA in the last five years.
The 41-year-old male Malaysian exporter of the concrete blocks was sentenced to 36 months jail in September, for smuggling contraband cigarettes.