When the KTV cluster erupted just 2 weeks ago, many Singaporeans wondered how it could have started.
This was under the Familial Ties Lane, which allowed foreigners with boyfriends or girlfriends in Singapore to enter.
However, the authorities had to scrap this gateway after it was abused.
An example of this abuse included Singaporean men applying for multiple girlfriends to enter.
This interesting information was revealed by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament on Monday (26 Jul).
He was speaking about nightlife businesses and short-term pass holders entering Singapore – a pertinent issue given the KTV cluster.
It turns out that in Oct 2020, amid an almost-complete ban on short-term visitors, the Government decided to allow for some flexibility.
Mr Shanmugam said the boyfriend/girlfriend category was opened because the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) wanted to be compassionate during a pandemic.
After all, from 2000-2019, about 120,000 Singaporeans married non-Singaporeans.
Acknowledging that most people wouldn’t put ICA at No. 1 on the list of compassion, he added that they nevertheless received many appeals.
Thus they realised that,
People want their loved ones to come in, and we want to try and help.
Thus, boyfriends and girlfriends of Singaporeans were allowed to enter Singapore under that category.
This would help partners who’ve been separated due to the pandemic to reunite.
Mr Shanmugam also noted that Singapore unilaterally opened our borders to Vietnam in Oct.
This was because it was then one of the low-risk countries that had controlled its infections well.
However, this opening was suspended in Feb 2021 when the situation in Vietnam worsened.
Incidentally, the 1st case in the KTV cluster also arrived here in Feb.
After the door was shut again, the ICA began to receive many applications for Vietnamese to enter Singapore under the Familial Ties Lane.
Specifically, the boyfriend/girlfriend category.
Some of the applicants, however, were “inventive”, Mr Shanmugam said, to much laughter in the chamber.
He gave some examples of applications that raised concerns:
Due to the flood of dodgy applications – which were primarily for Vietnamese girlfriends to enter – the authorities came to realise that the system was being abused.
They thus moved fast to scrap the boyfriend/girlfriend category in Mar.
Besides cancelling the approvals, ICA also barred the travellers from entering Singapore and suspended the sponsors and travellers from applying in future.
Unfortunately, there was some collateral damage – many legitimate applications are being rejected now.
For short-term visitors who are already in Singapore, ICA will assess a few factors in deciding whether their to extend their passes, like familial ties in Singapore and flight availability.
Going back to the police operations against nightlife operators, Mr Shanmugam said 29 women of various nationalities, aged from 20-47, have been arrested for offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and other laws.
So far, 16 have had their passes cancelled, and they have been or will be deported.
For the rest of the women, investigations are ongoing.
It was a good thing that the ICA wanted to help reunite lovebirds of different nationalities.
Unfortunately, that system was misused by dodgy applicants and sponsors, and could’ve played a part in kicking off a cluster.
Though it’s rightfully been closed, it also means actual partners will face a longer period of separation no thanks to the abusers.
Let’s hope Covid-19 goes away sooner rather than later, and they’ll be able to see each other again.
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Featured image adapted from Flickr.
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