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Singapore Unlocking Efficiency: Automated Border Clearance

The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) recently commemorated its 20th anniversary and to manage increasing traveller and cargo volumes, ICA has consistently evolved and innovated over the years. They have adopted programmes such as the New Clearance Concept (NCC) and Services Centre Next Generation (SCNG) to improve border clearance and registration services, as well as automated immigration clearance and digitalisation.

The Automated Clearance Initiative (ACI), which goes into effect in May 2022, permits passport holders from 51 countries to use chosen automated lanes for immigration clearance without previous enrollment. The electronic visit pass (ePass) contains information on eligible foreign visitors’ enrollment, and more than four million foreign visitors have been enrolled through ACI to date.

The Special Assistance Lanes (SAL) at Changi Airport were launched in December 2022, allowing several passengers to undertake self-immigration clearance as a group. From Q1 2024, ICA plans to replace manual counters with 800 additional automated lanes as part of the next-generation Automated Border Control System (ABCS), allowing Singapore citizens and departing visitors to experience contactless clearance.

The NCC plan also includes security enhancements to immigration clearance, such as pre-arrival risk assessment of passengers based on advance information provided by airlines, as well as the option of flagging passengers who constitute a security or immigration danger. The Automated Passenger In-Car Clearance System (APICS) is being developed in collaboration with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) to automate immigration processing for passengers travelling by automobile.

The trial of the Automated Passenger In-Car Clearance System (APICS) at Old Woodlands Checkpoint revealed that 94% of passengers were able to self-clear without the aid of officials. When compared to manual clearing, the method was determined to be more straightforward and faster. APICS will be implemented in stages at all land checkpoints, according to ICA.

QR code scanning will replace passport scanning at manual car counts in Phase 1 beginning in early 2024. Using the MyICA mobile app, travellers will build a profile and generate a QR code, which can be self-scanned at the checkpoint.

Immigration agents will use QR code data to do facial image checks. APICS lanes will be introduced at Tuas Checkpoint in 2026 when travellers will self-scan the QR code and give their biometrics for identification verification.

APICS lanes will be introduced at the reconstructed Woodlands Checkpoint beginning in 2028. Furthermore, under the New Clearance Concept (NCC), ICA has been changing the cargo clearance procedure to deliver a more seamless and efficient experience.

Paperless clearance for conventional cargo was implemented at Air Cargo and Ports checkpoints in January 2023, cutting clearance time and improving cargo supply chain efficiency. In March 2023, this programme was expanded to include land checkpoints.

In addition, ICA is experimenting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to detect anomalies in scanned images of cargo, shipments, and luggage to improve the detection of potential threats. The vision of ICA’s SCNG is to provide consumers with a seamless, digital, and automated experience.

Core application services are already accessible online, and ICA-issued documents are being digitised, thereby reducing the number of physical documents issued. In 2024, the new ICA Services Centre (ISC) will be operational, integrating multiple customer-facing services into a single point of contact. At the ISC, the Integrated Smart Document Management System (iSMART) will be implemented, enabling consumers to collect their own identification documents.

As operations evolve, ICA officers will assume more complex responsibilities and develop a broader skill set, transforming into Assessment & Investigation (A&I) officers engaged in ground observations and security duties. ISC frontline agents are undergoing training to manage a variety of services and provide a customer-focused experience. ICA intends to implement positive changes in its interactions with the public at all touchpoints.


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