Saturday, March 31, 2012

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

As 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. :(

Firstly, 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.

So 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.

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.

The 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

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.

In 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

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!


Tee Ying Zi said...

Oh,this is interesting and it's the first time I've heard about this. What a pity that the trip didn't realize. But that arrogant officer was horrible! Should totally make a complain about her man!

Anonymous said...

Indeed, very remarkable and amazing! I simply don't know what to say.

Anonymous said...

Wow this isn't good. I hope it was a genuine issue and not a result of the current wave of xenophobia that hit awhile back and has been growing in our country of late. If there was any of that at the officer's end, it is an embarrassment to us Singaporeans.

Aussie Pete said...

Hi anonymous - I don't think xenophobia played a part. At the end of the day, I'm guessing we just copped someone having a bad day and wanted to take it out on somebody ;)

Anonymous said...

look at the conditions for e-XTEND n u will get ur ans

Andrew Miler said...

Very, very interesting. I'm headed to Singapore next year to visit family and had thought of making a day (or two) trip to Malaysia....am now wondering if that won't be possible.

Any thoughts?

Aussie Pete said...

Hi Andrew - if your total stay is less than 30-days (that is, your return ticket has you departing within 30-days of arrival), then I suspect you shouldn't have a problem. However, if you intend staying longer than 30-days (initial length of the social visit pass), I strongly recommend that you apply for long term pass when you arrive... or you can apply for one time extension for another 30-days.



Anonymous said...

My husband den boyfriend from china was issued e multiple visa. We drove to malacca for a one night stay upon returning to Singapore he was interviewed at the check point . The officer went thru his belonging and given no explanation denied his entry to Singapore. He was deported to Malaysian and stayed for a night while I have to settle all his paperwork and desperately trying to accede to ica guideline. He managed to clear custom the next day but this incident has scared his record as every time he enter any country he will have to indicate yes on the question that he has been denied entry to Singapore . It just suck to know we cannot question these officers and we are held ransom by their personal opinion to determine an action .

Anonymous said...

Hi Aussie,

I applied for 30 days last dec and came to singapore and extended for 1 more month and stayed only 5 days.

Now I applied for a SVP for 30 days, the ICA has rejected. I don't have any reasons given by ICA and it says it was not successful.

When I came last time, the immigration officer who was a lady was so arrogant and angry on me asking all foolish questions, although I had very document in my hand.

Anonymous said...

same thing even worse happened to me this weekend when i was crossing to sinagpore from malaysia. i told them i was a student and my country i s entitled to visa free treatment on return when in malaysia. i was denied entry after the screening and .taken back to malaysia immigration. The treatment afrricans receive in singapore is really nt human.

Anonymous said...

I encountered a very similar experience with a female immigration officer. Wonder if she is the same person. So sad when the Govt is trying to promote courtesy and immigration offices are the first Singaporeans tourist meet.

Anonymous said...

I am A British grandmother visiting family and have visited Legoland for the day and had no problems returning to Singapore the same day.

Anonymous said...

I traveled from Indonesia to Singapore on Thursday for a business trip with e-visa and i was intend to stay only but two days with my hotel reservation and returning ticket to Indonesia where i have multiple and business visa,i was interviewed at the check point by the immigration officer after that i was denied entry and deported back to Indonesia in which i was held ransom by Indonesia immigration amazing that i should paid $1300us as bribe before the could allow me which i paid despite i have multiple visa of one year stay in Indonesia,in Asia i realize Africans are being treated in a difference way due to our color race.

Anyway the course of deportation was my fault not immigration officer who interview me i was ignorant i made a mistake by not giving correct spelling of my address which the officer told me after searching if not find it could result deportation for me, It just suck to know we cannot question or give clarification or ask to correct out mistakes,i desperately managed to try and contact officer re correction of spelling which prove abortive

I intend to visit Singapore again for a business trip since my deportation is my fault,my personal opinion determine to applied again but i really want to ask Singapore immigration how long it will take me to apply since i was refused entry due to unsatisfied answer?

Kate said...


Unknown said...

Not bad at all. Everybody need to learn Immigration policy otherwise it will be problematic issue for everyone. So just learn more about this from singapore visa. Hopefully lot of information can be found from here. Thanks

Anonymous said...

its was fresh from my memories what did an officer say to me on our 20 mins conversation. he always talk badwords to me (ex. bulls@$+). I'm only a tourist but why did he need to speak badwords when he ask me some questions?.. Its ok to do your job as an IO, but why are you saying badwords to a tourist like me? did i commit a crime. I was also shocked when he throws away from me my plane ticket. gosh. he acts like an idiot. shame on you IO of singapore. bad karma comes right after you.

Singapore Visa agents India said...

Articles and content in this section of the website are really amazing. Great ideas indeed! I will surely keep this in my mind!