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Amendments to the Immigration Act


The Second Reading Speech for Immigration Amendment Bill 2004 - Speech by AP Ho Peng Kee, Senior Minister of State, 16 November 2004

Amendments to the Immigration Act
Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Sir, Singapore is a small country with limited resources. The presence of immigration offenders such as illegal immigrants and overstayers poses a serious social problem, and compromises our safety and security.
MHA has taken, and will continue to take, a tough stance against all immigration offenders as well as anyone who harbours, employs or assists them to enter or remain unlawfully in Singapore.
The Immigration Act regulates the entry, stay and exit of foreigners into and out of Singapore. This Bill amends the Act to enhance the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's (ICA) operational powers to tackle the immigration offender problem.
The Immigration Offender Situation
The widespread publicity on the harbouring of immigration offenders has helped to raise public awareness of the problem.
Through our public education efforts like Crimewatch and the circulation of information leaflets, as well as media publicity on the tough sentences meted out to harbourers, the public is well-aware of our tough stance on the harbouring of immigration offenders.
Our concerted efforts have resulted in a 40% drop of harbourers arrested - from 527 in 2000, to 333 last year.
Sir, this drop is the result of the measures taken over the past 4 to 5 years. Our efforts have therefore borne fruit. While we arrested some 16,500 illegal immigrants and overstayers in 2000, this number fell to 11,900 last year, a drop of almost 30% over 3 years. But we cannot be complacent.
In strengthening our multi-pronged approach to deal with the supply and demand of immigration offenders, MHA has reviewed the Immigration Act to ensure that the current provisions remain relevant.
This amendment Bill is a result of this review. Let me now elaborate on the key amendments.
A. Harbouring of Immigration Offenders
Lower Limb for Harbouring of immigration offenders
Sir, when the due diligence requirements were introduced more than 10 years ago in 1993, the clearly spelt out checks helped landlords to verify the identity and immigration status of their foreign tenants.
These checks not only play a vital role in keeping Singapore safe, but they also ensure the personal safety of the landlords especially since they are renting out their premises to strangers.
Now we have previously informed the House that Police and ICA have in place a set of internal guidelines to determine whether landlords caught for harbouring immigration offenders should be charged in court.
Over the years, we have constantly reviewed and fine-tuned these guidelines to ensure their relevance and effectiveness. Consequently, between 2000 and 2003, about half of the harbourers arrested were prosecuted while the rest were issued with a stern warning. Those prosecuted, if convicted, faced mandatory imprisonment of 6 months or more.
Now, given the seriousness of the harbouring offence, we will retain the current mandatory jail sentence to provide a clear deterrence to and aid the prosecution of defiant or recalcitrant offenders who knowingly or recklessly harbour immigration offenders.
What is new in these amendments is that those found guilty of negligently harbouring an immigration offender will not face mandatory imprisonment.
This will therefore bridge the gap in the current Act where the prosecution either has to prosecute offenders for an offence that carries a mandatory imprisonment sentence, or let them off with a stern warning. Also, the courts will have some leeway not to have to send an offender to jail, if found guilty.

Source: Ministry of Home Affairs Press Release 16 Nov 2004


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24 November 2004