ICA to enhance border processes from Jan with self-scanning of passports, glass shields at VTL counters

From next month, manual immigration counters at Woodlands Checkpoint will be redesigned to allow travellers to self-scan their passports. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - From January, travellers using the manual immigration counters at Woodlands Checkpoint will be able to self-scan their passports, reducing physical contact for those entering or leaving the Republic via the land Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

Glass shields will also be installed at these counters as an additional layer of protection. The counters will still be manned by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers, who inspect documents such as travellers' vaccination certificates and pre-departure tests.

These are some of the enhancements being progressively rolled out at Woodlands Checkpoint for a secure, safer and more seamless immigration process for travellers, ICA told The Straits Times.

More than 35,000 trips have been made to and from Singapore and Malaysia via the Woodlands Checkpoint since border measures were eased.

From next month, ICA will also be issuing an electronic Visit Pass to those entering Singapore via the land border.

The pass contains details of the maximum number of days of stay and the last day of stay allowed in Singapore.

This measure is already in place at Changi Airport and will replace the inked endorsement stamps in passports.

The electronic Visit Pass will be issued via e-mail and sent to the address declared by travellers when they submit the SG Arrival Card online.

The SG Arrival Card, which contains health declaration information, must be submitted within three days before arrival. It replaces the physical disembarkation/embarkation card, commonly known as the white card, which is no longer accepted at checkpoints.

ICA's new initiatives come after the land VTL was expanded from Monday (Dec 20) to allow vaccinated Singapore citizens to enter Malaysia via the Causeway without quarantine.

The same arrangement applies for vaccinated Malaysians entering Singapore via the Causeway.

Previously, only citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering could travel via the land VTL.

Travellers waiting to board VTL buses to Malaysia at the Transtar bus station at Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange on Dec 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

An estimated 4,320 people can travel between Malaysia and Singapore every day after bus operators Transtar and Causeway Link announced earlier this month that they can increase the number of bus tickets they sell by 50 per cent.

Since the land VTL began on Nov 29, more than 24,540 travellers left Singapore for Malaysia as at Dec 20, 3pm.

Another 12,455 were cleared to enter Singapore for the land VTL within the same period, ICA told ST.

Currently, travellers using the manual counters hand over their passports to ICA officers for clearance, the border control agency told ST.

Besides the retrofitted manual lanes, VTL travellers can also use 20 automated lanes at Woodlands Checkpoint when they enter Singapore.

Singapore citizens, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and international travellers who are part of the Frequent Traveller Programme can use those automated lanes, provided their biometric data is registered with ICA.

These automated lanes will make it more efficient for a large number of travellers to enter or leave the Republic.

It takes 30 seconds to use the automated lane, which is equipped with iris and facial scanners. Clearance through manual counters takes about three minutes.

ICA said in a statement last month: "Besides being more reliable than fingerprints for identity authentication, the use of iris and facial scanners has enabled a touch-free immigration clearance that is more hygienic, convenient and efficient."

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the National University of Singapore Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that the new measures will minimise the risk of border staff being exposed to Covid-19.

He said: "If the passport checks can be done more quickly, they can also reduce the likelihood of exposure for other passengers, if one among them was harbouring asymptomatic or mild Covid-19."

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.