SINGAPORE, July 26 — The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) quickly removed a provision that allowed boyfriends or girlfriends of Singapore citizens and permanent residents to enter the country when it saw that it was likely being abused, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said today.
This was after a Unilateral Opening arrangement Singapore had with Vietnam was suspended.
The Vietnamese hostess first linked to the cluster had entered Singapore in February this year on a short-term visit pass via the Familial Ties Lane sponsored by her Singaporean boyfriend, the authorities previously said.
ICA clarified later that the allowance was made in October last year so that Singaporeans who were in relationships with foreign partners could be reunited after being separated for long periods due to the pandemic.
This allowance was, however, removed in March, which means that only immediate family members, relatives or spouses-to-be of Singapore citizens or permanent residents can enter via the Familial Ties Lane.
There were suggestions in some quarters that ICA removed the allowance after He Ting Ru, Workers’ Party’s Member of Parliament for Sengkang Group Representation Constituency, raised the issue in Parliament in February this year.
Then, she had asked about the number of visitors who had entered Singapore via the Familial Ties Lane, among other things.
Today, Shanmugam said that when this category was introduced, there was a parallel development in September and October when Singapore announced Unilateral Opening arrangements with specific countries and regions that were of lower Covid-19 risk, including Brunei, New Zealand and Vietnam.
“Vietnam specifically had a comprehensive public health surveillance system and had displayed successful control over Covid at that time. In the last four weeks of September 2020, it had zero local Covid cases.
“Under the Unilateral Opening, travellers could seek entry into Singapore by applying for an Air Travel Pass and this means short-term travellers from these countries are allowed to come in,” Shanmugam said.
However, in February this year, due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in Vietnam, the Unilateral Opening arrangement between Singapore and Vietnam was suspended.
“ICA then began to receive many applications for Vietnamese to come into Singapore under the ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ category,” Shanmugam said.
“People are quite inventive. We looked at it, scratched our heads, the applications raised concerns,” he added, citing examples such as how one Vietnamese applicant had multiple sponsors claiming to be her boyfriend.
He added that there were many Singaporean sponsors who applied for many girlfriends and some sponsors were already married to someone else. Some sponsors were also unable to substantiate their relationship with the travellers.
“When we looked at these applications for girlfriends, and they’re all primarily girlfriends to come in, we decided this won’t do. We have to stop this,” Shanmugam said.
“So ICA moved quite fast. In February, the Unilateral Opening with Vietnam was suspended. The next month, in March, the boyfriend/girlfriend category was scrapped because we took the view (that) this was being abused,” he said.
Shanmugam added that the category was created during the pandemic last October “because we wanted to be compassionate”.
“We did want to try and be compassionate and helpful, because of the number of appeals but if the system is abused then we have to stop it.”
As a result, many legitimate applications are now being refused, he added.
Shanmugam also noted that ICA has taken action in respect of “dodgy applications” — by rescinding approvals, barring travellers from entering Singapore and suspending the sponsors and travellers from future applications. — TODAY