Learning & Development Asia 2024
Singapore to use biometric clearance for travellers from Changi Airport for automated, passport-free immigration come 2024

Singapore to use biometric clearance for travellers from Changi Airport for automated, passport-free immigration come 2024

In preparation of  this new clearance concept (NCC), ICA has been training its officers since 2020 — 4,000 ICA officers are able to take on higher value jobs in assessment and investigation, using newly acquired skills.

Starting from the first half of 2024, Singapore's Changi Airport will implement automated immigration clearance for departing travellers using biometric data, without the need for passports.

To facilitate this, it is proposed that the Minister for Home Affairs be empowered to authorise the disclosure of passenger and crew information to the airport operator for specific use cases, namely:

  • bag drop, access control and gate boarding;
  • passenger tracing within the airport for security purposes;
  • offloading of baggage for passengers who did not board the flight; and
  • verification of travellers’ identity and tax liability for duty free purchases and GST refunds.

Speaking in Parliament on the Immigration (Amendment) Bill, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo shared Singapore's efforts to digitalise and automate immigration clearance. In this matter, she points out three broad buckets of concerns; cyber readiness and resilience, data security, and how Singapore deals with impersonations.

Keeping this in mind, Minister Teo shared that Singapore will be one of the first few countries in the world to introduce automated, passport-free immigration clearance.

"Besides Dubai, which already offers passport-free clearance for certain enrolled travellers, we do not know exactly which other countries have similar plans. MHA and ICA will certainly seek to enable more convenient travel for our people, but it is likely that physical passports will still be required for many countries outside of Singapore."

In preparation of this new clearance concept (NCC), ICA has been training its officers since 2020 — 4,000 ICA officers are able to take on higher value jobs in assessment and investigation, using newly acquired skills such as investigative interviewing and profiling. 

Besides levelling up staff capabilities, Minister Teo emphasised universal coverage of all travellers as the key to a successful implementation of the NCC. This requires a willingness to phase out traditional methods of identifying and authenticating travellers.

"The alternative of running two systems in parallel is not only costly but also cumbersome."

Addressing the possibility of seniors who may not be able to provide certain biometrics or who may not be digitally savvy requiring assistance, Minister Teo affirms that immigration officers will be on hand to help. The officers can also conduct manual clearance by exception.

Acknowledging its responsibility in ensuring the availability and resilience of its systems as immigration clearance becomes more digitalised, ICA will work closely with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) and GovTech to meet reliability and security requirements in upstream design.

For example, the next generation Automated Border Clearance System (ABCS) will allow travellers to continue using automated clearance gates if there are any outages. 

"Nonetheless, some of the NCC capabilities are novel and highly customised to Singapore’s context. Despite our best efforts, disruptions may still happen."

In such an event, Minister Teo shares that the business continuity plans will then be promptly activated through a combination of measures such as recalling off-duty officers and prioritising traveller clearance according to departure times. This aims to help minimise service degradation. 


Lead image / Shutterstock

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