Posts tagged: Immigration

Key Learnings – SG Immigration No U-Turn Policy – Travellers Take Note!

By Aussie Pete, March 31, 2012 8:42 pm

Source: Aussie Pete Legacy Blog

icalogo01As a partner to MICA (ministry of communications and the arts) to promote Singapore to foreigners and locals alike, as a great place to work, live, study and play, I find it unfortunate and disappointing to write the following article.

As the saying goes – “We are never too old to learn”… after 7-years living in Singapore, I learned something new a few weekends ago… the policy that is known as a ‘U-turn’ within the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority. Boy oh boy, did this cause my family and I some grief. :(

nouturn01Firstly, I want to make it completely clear that I have no qualms or complaints about the policies, rules, regulations or laws with respect to Singapore Immigration. In fact, I have always been (and continue to be) a proponent of the laws set forth… the last thing we would ever do as a PR family, would be to try and break or bend any regulations (this doesn’t mean I fully understand the reasoning behind certain policies).

Here’s the background… my wife’s ageing, retired parents have come to Singapore to spend time with their grandchildren, who were both born here in Singapore. Prior to departure from Shanghai a few weeks ago, they applied through the appropriate channels and received a multiple entry tourist visa to Singapore, valid for 12-months – at time of application and as a part of the process, they were required to submit a copy of their flight details and itinerary indicating the time and date of their return flight to China.

We were obviously aware before their vacation, that the social visit pass that would be endorsed in their passports upon arrival should allow them to stay for 30-days. Given that it was also their desire to visit surrounding areas (Malaysia and Indonesia), they ensured that they also attained any necessary further visas for travel (eg. single entry visa to Malaysia). Taking into consideration all of the above, I contacted ICA to determine whether or not an application for extension of social visit pass (short term) or an application for long-term social visit pass would be required – to date, I have still not had a response to this query.

batamferrymapSo here’s what happened… my in-laws decided that for their first trip to surrounding areas, they would like to visit the Indonesian island of Batam (just around 40-minute ferry ride from the terminal at Tanah Merah and to the south of Singapore). We booked in for a 2D/1N stay at the Turi Beach Resort, packed up the kids and all six of us checked in at the ferry terminal early on Saturday morning.

Knowing full well that my in-laws had a valid multiple entry visa to Singapore and Indonesia would issue a visa upon arrival, I made sure that we carried all associated paperwork (including air tickets back to China that they used when applying for their SG visas) with us to avoid any unnecessary delays or concerns over the travel plans and my in-laws’ intentions around their stay in Singapore.

Given that we would be leaving the shores of Singapore through immigration and returning again later the following day, my assumption was that my in-laws would be ‘stamped out’ and then a new social visit pass would be chopped in their passport when we arrived back on shore.

tanahmerah01

Herein lies the lesson!! I know, I know… ASSUME = ASS, U and ME… for any person travelling out of Singapore and returning within 5-days, it is considered by immigration officers as a ‘U-Turn’ and is not the appropriate process to follow when renewing or extending the social visit pass.

As mentioned in my opening comments, I have absolutely no problems with the rules. My main issue is that we had never been made aware of this ‘U-Turn’ policy. Even after reaching out to ICA and receiving no response, we had been completely transparent with our intentions and had no underlying motives or hidden agendas around the grandparents of my children visiting and staying with us for vacation. We carried with us all original documentation – visas, itineraries, airline tickets, etc, etc.

My secondary issue – and my biggest concern – was the treatment that my ageing mother-in-law received at the hands of a particular angry lady at the border when we were exiting Singapore. I still have no idea who she was or what her position is (although I am assuming some kind of supervisory role), as I had asked for her name and designation, which she refused to provide me.

bully01The incident left my mother-in-law short of breath, shaking uncontrollably and on the verge of fainting. This ICA officer threatened that there was a chance that she could be sent back to China within 24-hours upon her return to Singapore. This, regardless of the fact that she was in possession of a valid multiple-entry visa and supporting documents, and the more personal and sensitive situation, that she was travelling with her family – her husband, also travelling under the exact same circumstances who had been cleared by the same officer just minutes before with no concern, her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren (all Singapore permanent residents). The bullying tactics should never have occurred in this situation, in my opinion.

I clearly understand that the Immigration officers have a very important job to do, and they are doing an excellent job of protecting our borders. However, when it comes to dealing with law-abiding people who are doing nothing but enjoying time with their families and have clearly done everything possible to offer transparency and follow all the rules and laws, there should definitely be some form of decorum, respect, or even downright good-nature. I was trying to discuss the situation with the officer (supervisor?) to explain what we were doing and that we had already reached out to ICA. She was clearly not listening to me and was intent on being arrogant and wielding her authority – to the point that it made this elderly traveler (my wife’s mother) extremely distressed… it’s important to note that the dialog and threats of 24-hour return to China (not sure if it’s considered ‘deportation’?) was not immediately understood as the entire discussion was in English language, of which my mother-in-law has very little understanding… this just added to her distress.

This all occurred before we even boarded the ferry to Batam – not an ideal way to begin a vacation right?

Determined not to let the departure incident ruin our vacation, we still did our best to enjoy the fun in the sun

Determined not to let the departure incident ruin our vacation, we still did our best to enjoy the fun in the sun

So the question remains, dear readers…. What happened when we returned to Singapore?? I‘m glad you asked!! :)

Thankfully, we were served by a much more considerate and understanding young guy in immigration who was pleasant and explained clearly the U-Turn policy.

When we approached the counter, another immigration officer who had witnessed the incident the day before, advised the guy that served us to check for this ‘U-Turn’ for my wife’s parents. Our counter was very quickly attended by another ‘supervisor’ to oversee the interaction. Once again, this lady was extremely professional and courteous in her manner… she supported the officer’s explanation that in and out of Singapore within 24-hours is not considered appropriate process to extend a short term social visit (minimum of 3-days out of the country is required – which I’ve later discovered is incorrect… the required length of time out of SG is 5 days), and if my in-laws wished to extend in the future, it should be done through the ICA head office (the same office which previously – seemingly – ignored my enquiry on this matter).

I am extremely grateful to the officer and his supervisor who attended to us upon our return. They were very approachable and understanding and resolved the situation kindly and amicably… the rude, arrogant lady from the previous day could take some lessons from their attitude and demeanor. Like I said, I know that she was doing her job and I am thankful for ICA keeping Singapore safe, but scaring the hell out of elderly people visiting their grandchildren who were born and living in Singapore using intimidation tactics is unacceptable in my books.

So there you go – after much searching, I have not found any information on the ICA website about this U-Turn policy, nor can I find any documentation to state that such practice is unacceptable (even though we were clearly completely transparent about our intentions, up to and including trying to seek information directly from ICA in advance). I did however, learn that by applying through the X-tend online short-term social visit portal, it does state that five days is required out of the country for ICA not to consider the departure as an extension to the current visit.

questionmarkIn conclusion, I have a few ‘rhetorical’ questions (not actually looking for answers – just wondering, really):

1 – Should ICA make it clear to all visitors (on their visitors section of their website) about the U-Turn policy?

2 – Why would a multiple-entry visa to Singapore be issued to travelers in the above situation?

3 – Why is there a separate process outside of visa issuance for short-term social visit pass (that is, when I receive a multiple entry visa for travel to China, the rules are very simple and clear – it is a condition of the visa that I can stay for a maximum of 30-days at any one time – regardless of how often I travel in and out of China on this visa – no separate visit pass is required)?

4 – Given that it is at the discretion of the officer serving you at the border how long he or she should endorse your passport for the social visit visa, should there be some kind of transparency to the public around how such determination would be made (as opposed to intimidating departing travelers just because maybe the officer in question might be having a bad day)?

5 – I am aware of travel packages to Singapore out of China, which include 1 or 2 day visits to surrounding areas. How do these travel agents get around the U-Turn policy, I wonder?

6 – Should the determination on extension of visit visas include some assessment of the family status and intentions of the visitors – that is, some kind of case-by-case compassion analysis?

More fun in the sun on Batam Island

More fun in the sun on Batam Island

A serious thank you again to the Immigration and Checkpoints of Authority of Singapore (ICA). Ultimately and overall, they are doing a fantastic job and deserve the full respect of all Singaporeans, PRs and Visitors.

Update: after application via ICA’s online X-tend website, extension of the short term visit passes has been rejected (with no right to reply or appeals process) and my in-laws have paid the financial and emotional penalty of changing their flights and will be departing Singapore next week.

To view all of the Batam photos in this series, click here!

batam03

Airport Stranger Danger – Be Vigilant, People!

By Aussie Pete, May 11, 2011 1:29 am

Source

budgetterminalSomething very strange happened this evening. I have just now arrived home from the airport after taking my domestic helper to catch a flight home to the Philippines. The Cebu Pacific flight is scheduled to depart from the Budget Terminal at 12:20am.

After almost a year and a half living with us in our employ, it was with a great deal of sadness that she had to leave us. However, it will certainly make her 5-year old daughter happy that her Mummy is finally returning home to be with her.

The drama that unfolded before Christine entered the immigration area of the terminal, left me with a very surreal feeling and I cannot shake the ‘gut feeling’ that we may well have averted a very disastrous and potentially tragic situation.

It is well known that Singapore has very strict laws when it comes to importing or exporting prohibited substances.

It is also very well known (at least to frequent travellers) that to carry any items of behalf of other people is very dangerous and, due to the laws, potentially life threatening.

We arrived at the airport at around 10:30pm, and while we were waiting for our maid in queue to check her luggage and collect her boarding pass at the Cebu Pacific check-in counter, I took Jaime over to the McDonalds store for a cold drink for him and a coffee for myself.

cebupacificWhen we returned, Christine was deep in conversation (in her native tongue) with the lady in queue in front of her. Both looked somewhat stressed, and when I gave her a questioning look, Christine asked what the consequences would be because her check-in suitcase was 15.2kg when she weighed it at home… she was concerned that she would be charged excess luggage fees for the extra 0.2kg. I explained that it would not be an issue. I then asked her also how much her carry-on luggage weighed because the signs all around advised that anything over 7kg would be charged ‘from S$15 per kg’. She told me that it weighed just under 7kg.

After a wait of around 30 minutes plus, she finally checked-in her suitcase, and the wanted to know if she had time to walk to the arrival terminal to exchange some Singapore currency which she had left over to Phillipines Peso. Given that it was now just 11:10pm and still more than an hour until departure, I said that would be ok.

soappacketsAs we were walking, Christine made a comment that her handbag was now very heavy, and she seemed to be struggling to carry it comfortably. This was the first ‘red flag’ to me that something was not quite right – her handbag size and weight was not previously a problem. She opened her handbag and showed me three 6-packs of bars of soap, and explained that the lady that she was talking to in the queue in front of her, had told her that she had no money and was worried that her luggage was overweight and therefore could Christine carry the soap in her carry-on luggage until after check-in.

My immediate reaction to this news was absolute horror, and I proceeded to smell one of the packs of soap bars… it smelled just like soap – but I thought of course it would – if a criminal was going to transport illegal substances disguised as bars of soap, they would most likely hide it inside real soap, would they not? Christine saw the shocked look on my face, and not being a regular traveller and somewhat naive, it took a moment to dawn on her what my concern was… it was just a moment though. The penny had well and truly had dropped.

While she was exchanging her money, my mind was racing a million miles an hour trying to determine what the appropriate next steps should be.

Christine told me that the lady would be waiting in the departure hall still, because she had agreed to take the bars of soap back off her before they proceeded through imigration and customs… here comes ‘red flag’ number two!! – the lady was nowhere to be seen, and had presumably already passed through to the gates.

That was it – the hairs on the back of my neck were now standing on end, and all my instincts were telling me that this was a clear attempt of a potential drug courier finding a mule in my domestic helper.

We approached an airport security guard on duty, and told him the story from the time we had arrived at the airport up until the point that we were standing there in front of him with three packets of soap bars in Christine’s handbag, that belonged to an absolute stranger.

I will not say anything untoward about the security guard in case we need his testimony at a later point (I’m assuming there are security cameras around the check-in counters and departure hall), however his first reaction was ‘I advise that you check the soap in at the check-in counter’ – I then re-emphasised the point that Christine’s luggage was already checked-in and that the soap was given to her by a complete stranger standing in queue in front of her – and that stranger had now disappeared (presumably) to the gate to board the flight.

Once the security guard understood this, I asked him if we could pass the soap to him for his action (whatever that might be). He said that he cannot take it, and that it should be passed on to the customs people after immigration. I told him that I didn’t think that was the right option, because if there was anything illegal, it could be misunderstood that Christine was actually trying to transport the items.

He agreed with me, and advised that she should just dispose of them there in the check-in area – in fact, he said she should take them to the bathroom to throw away… Once again, I was not happy with this solution either, because I was concerned that it might be considered as someone trying to secretly get rid of illegal substances (and remember, I had touched one of the packs to smell the contents). He then agreed for her to dispose of them publically in front of him and also any people in this somewhat crowded section of the airport – in a public trash bin just a few metres away from him.

So that’s what happened – like I said, all my instincts were firing… I’m not normally a paranoid person, but the whole situation just seemed wrong. I cannot help but truly feel that this whole epsisode could have turned out very poorly for us, had we not alerted the authorities and disposed of these soap bars publically. I think that the airport security staff should perhaps have a standard operating procedure for such a predicament. After all, if there was something illegal in those bars of soap, it could really be a case of ‘life or death’ under Singapore law.

(Update – while searching for pictures for this article, I found the attached image in an article from Malaysia – drug couriers carrying bars of soap that had been hollowed out to hide their stash… I really don’t know how I can sleep now – I’m thinking of maybe calling the airport up and telling them to check in that rubbish bin).

soapdrugs

How to Attract Attention at Airport Customs

By Aussie Pete, July 27, 2010 11:44 pm
Now you can pretend to be an international trafficker or a kidnapper (Images courtesy of The Cheeky.com)

Now you can pretend to be an international trafficker or a kidnapper (Images courtesy of The Cheeky.com)

WARNING: This is NOT an advertorial. Use of these products is at your own personal risk (and stupidity)

logo-suitcaseMaybe this says something about my warped sense of humour, but I find these luggage stickers hilarious (available through the Canadian designers, The Cheeky.com). Funny or not, however, I am not very partial to the idea of having a full external and internal body search… and I’m sure many countries would not share in the joke. Therefore I will NOT be taking part in the gag.

Now, when travelling, you can to choose whether to be a cocaine smuggler, kidnapper, money launderer or just ’naughty’ from this range of luggage stickers.

The products are actually being marketed as a way to clearly identify your luggage at the carousel (personally, I prefer to tie a piece of red ribbon on the handle of my suitcase, but everyone to their own, I guess).

A bag full of Adult Toys?

A bag full of Adult Toys?

Let me assure you that customs and airport security will definitely scrutinize you – the very controversial stickers include a bound and gagged flight attendant inside your suitcase, bundles of American dollar notes, a stash of cocaine and a collection of adult toys.
 
Does any one remember the allowable limit for cash?

Does any one remember the allowable limit for cash?

 
From the company website:

Take a stand against monotonous travel with Suitcase Stickers. Designed to stick to anything, they will draw attention to your bag making it easily identifiable and sure to make you some new friends.

 

Caution: Some of these stickers may cause offense to airport and immigration staff. But you would have figured that out whilst enjoying those cavity searches.Sizes 16” x 12”
 

 

 

Price $15 each
(not including postage and packing)
 
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