Like father, like sons: get to know this tight-knit family of ICA officers

Like father, like sons: get to know this tight-knit family of ICA officers

How one father inspired his sons to follow in his footsteps

Singapore may be a small country, but it’s also home to some of the busiest travel checkpoints in the world.

To handle such a high volume of travellers while also keeping our borders safe requires a team of dedicated personnel. That’s where the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) comes in.

MS News recently met a family of three ICA officers to find out more about their lives inside and outside of work, and as it turns out, there’s a lot more to being at ICA than you might think.

The father who joined ICA more than 40 years ago

When Abdul Hamed, 63, joined ICA as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed twentysomething in 1981, it technically didn’t exist back then.

It was only in 2003 that the Singapore Immigration & Registration and the Customs & Excise Department’s checkpoint functions merged to form the ICA that we all know today.

“Back then, I just wanted to give it a try,” he mused. “A government job is prestigious, and I felt I could contribute.”

Fast forward almost 45 years, and Mr Hamed is still happily employed at ICA as a Deputy Team Leader at Changi Airport Terminal 3, where he manages the daily operations and looks out for the well-being of his colleagues.

ica family

Having been around for so long, Mr Hamed has witnessed all kinds of changes and rapid advancements in technology, which he admitted that he struggled to embrace at first.

Once he got used to it, though, he was amazed at how technology made certain tasks so much more efficient.

“From manually verifying travellers’ passports to having automated gates and seamless clearance, travel and immigration processes have significantly improved. I’m so proud to be a part of it!” he exclaimed.

When asked about his most memorable case, he recalled helping a pregnant woman who gave birth to twins on a cruise ship in international waters. At that time, he was one of the few officers selected to lead Last Port Clearance, where he had to go on board to handle clearance matters.

Mr Hamed and his colleagues immediately stepped in to settle all the necessary paperwork. They arranged for the babies to have the documentation they needed and ensured an ambulance was waiting for them when they got to port.

Like anyone who has been in a certain industry for a long time, Mr Hamed is heartened to see more people from the younger generation joining ICA.

ica family

“They have so much to contribute, and as technology advances, I believe we should embrace new ways of doing things, too,” he mused.

Of course, some things don’t change when it comes to being an ICA officer, such as good ‘old-fashioned’ values like discipline.

“You should uphold the law in order to serve the public well,” Mr Hamed emphasised. “And I am grateful to see my children living up to that expectation and carrying on my legacy.”

The older son who was the first to follow in his father’s footsteps

Like many other young men in Singapore, Zainal Abidin A. Hamed wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life after National Service (NS).

It turned out that inspiration was right in front of him all along in the form of his dad, Mr Hamed.

“I saw how content my father was with his life, which made me wonder if joining ICA was something that I would like to do as well,” the 36-year-old shared.

This year marks Mr Zainal’s 13th year in ICA. As Team Leader at Tuas Checkpoint, his role is very similar to that of his old man’s, leading a team of officers, managing traffic, and being in charge of his colleagues’ well-being.

When MS News visited Mr Zainal at his workplace, it was the first day of Ramadan. This period brings back memories as he joined ICA during the fasting month, which made adjusting to 12-hour shift work a bit of a struggle.

After a while, however, he began to enjoy the flexibility of being free during the typical 9-to-5 office hours whenever he was on the night shift.

ica family

But the memory that Mr Zainal holds closest to his heart is of his late mother, who was so proud of having three ICA officers in the family that laundering their uniforms was a privilege to her.

She wouldn’t even let any of them iron their own uniforms and insisted on doing it herself.

“She was the biggest supporter for Arifin and myself because she believed that [ICA] stood for discipline and security,” he shared.

As the first son to follow in their father’s footsteps, Mr Zainal had the opportunity to influence his younger brother, Mr Arifin, in his decision to do the same as well.

He said:

It feels good to continue my father’s work, and also inspire my brother.

The younger son who felt the pressure to live up to his role models’ achievements

Unlike Mr Zainal, Zainul Arifin Abdul Hamed was initially hesitant to work at ICA. However, the longer his father and brother stayed there, the more his scepticism waned.

The 34-year-old joined in 2016 and is now deployed at Woodlands Checkpoint, where he profiles travellers, scans vehicles for anomalies and assists in handling the dynamic traffic conditions at the checkpoint.

ica family

He admitted that he felt the pressure to live up to his family’s achievements — after all, he said that everyone in ICA knows him as “Hamed’s son and Zainal’s brother”.

On the bright side, he could go to them for advice. Mr Arifin smiled as he recalled some sage words from his father that got him through long and challenging days.

“He always tells me to think of the positives rather than the negatives,” he said. “For example, if I clear a lot of travellers, he would say that I’m allowing more visitors to enter Singapore and boost the country’s economy.”

Mr Hamed has also always led by example.

“Our father never pushed us to join ICA,” Mr Arifin clarified. “I think we were influenced by what we saw growing up, such as the discipline he conducted at home.”

Despite their different schedules and the fact that they work on opposite corners of Singapore, the family always tries to find time to meet.

MS News got a glimpse at how tight-knit the trio is when we watched them break fast together in Mr Zainal’s home.

“If you think about it, there’s not a day we don’t talk about our work!” Mr Zainal laughed as the three of them tucked into their chicken rice.

Not that any of them are complaining, though — it’s a valuable opportunity to learn from each other while also growing closer as a family.

Find your dream job at ICA

When you have three members of the same family working in the same company for a combined total of 62 years, it’s enough to make you wonder what encourages them to stay.

Beyond the fulfilling aspect of helping travellers and safeguarding the country’s borders, having a good work-life balance and loads of time for their families is a huge plus point.

For instance, Mr Arifin can take his two young sons to school in the morning before driving to work.

There are also opportunities to learn, grow, and try new things. In Mr Zainal’s case, he could meet people from around the world and improve his communication skills.

Mr Hamed also highlighted that staff welfare, benefits, and remuneration rates have improved significantly, so anyone who joins will be in good hands. Hey, there’s got to be a reason he’s been there so long, right?

As a Guardian of Singapore’s Borders, ICA:

  • Detects threats before they enter Singapore
  • Keeps Singapore connected to the world
  • Develops border security professionals through specialised training

If you, too, would like to explore a career in ICA, visit the website here. You can also follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for updates and insights into life there.

This post was brought to you in collaboration with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.

Featured image by MS News. Photography by Hui Wen Chan.

Drop us your email so you won't miss the latest news.

  • More From Author