Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the Singapore government has since late January this year, introduced a slew of measures in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus in the community. From a border control perspective, in order to reduce the number of imported cases so as to protect the local community and ring-fence the risk of community transmissions from imported cases, the measures started off with travel restrictions to and from certain countries before expanding eventually to disallow all short-term visitors to enter and transit in Singapore, subject to very limited exceptions.
Other restrictions which have been introduced by the Singapore government on travellers coming into Singapore include (i) mandatory Stay-Home Notices ('SHN') at dedicated SHN facilities for all travellers entering Singapore; (ii) requiring prior entry approval to be granted by the relevant government agency before long-term pass holders could be allowed entry or re-entry into Singapore; and (iii) a rejection of all new work pass applications for foreign employees who are outside Singapore. These protective measures inevitably caused some concerns and disruptions for global families and businesses with presence and operations in Singapore.
On 3 April 2020, the Singapore government announced further control measures known as the circuit breaker measures effective from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020. These circuit breaker measures were extended to 1 June 2020 when the community transmission cases continued to remain at sub-optimal levels. When the circuit breaker period eventually ended on 1 June 2020, the Singapore government announced that there will be three stages of reopening, starting with Phase One from 2 June 2020. Travel restrictions for Phase One remain substantially the same as during the circuit breaker period.
On 15 June 2020, the Singapore government announced that Phase Two reopening of the country will commence on 19 June 2020, with some easing of travel restrictions and border control measures effective from 17 June 2020, 2359 hours. A summary of these new travel restrictions and border control measures is set out below.
a) Mandatory Stay-Home Notices at dedicated facilities
From 17 June 2020, 2359 hours ('Phase 2 Travel Reopening'), it will no longer be a requirement for all travellers entering Singapore to serve their mandatory 14-day SHN at dedicated SHN facilities.
The following travellers entering Singapore will not need to serve their mandatory SHN at dedicated SHN facilities:-
1. Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents who had remained in any of the following ten countries (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, Mainland China, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam) in the last consecutive 14 days prior to entering Singapore, may serve their 14-day SHN at their place of residence.
2. Long Term Pass Holders (which includes Employment Pass Holders, S-Pass Holders, Student Pass Holders, Dependent Pass Holders, Work Holiday Pass Holders and Long Term Visit Pass Holders ) who had remained in any of the following ten countries (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, Mainland China, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam) in the last consecutive 14 days prior to entering Singapore, may serve their 14-day SHN at a place of residence that they or their family members own or are the sole tenants of. If the Long Term Pass Holder's place of residence does not meet the aforesaid requirements, the Long Term Pass Holder may serve his 14-day SHN in a suitable accommodation such as a hotel (at his own cost).
All other travellers entering Singapore shall continue to be required to serve their mandatory 14-day SHN at dedicated SHN facilities. The prevailing indicative charge for the 14-day stay at the dedicated SHN facilities is around S$2,000 for non-citizens and non-permanent residents. Travellers with extenuating circumstances, such as medical issues, may continue to provide their details via an online request form for the relevant government agency's consideration.
b) COVID-19 testing for all travellers entering Singapore from Phase 2 Travel Reopening
With effect from Phase 2 Travel Reopening, all travellers entering Singapore will be tested for Covid-19. This is an additional precautionary measure introduced by the Singapore government to detect the virus, especially given the risks of asymptomatic cases, which has been emerging across the world.
The Covid-19 test will be scheduled a few days prior to the end of the mandatory 14-day SHN period and will be conducted at a designated community testing facility. Each person under SHN will receive an SMS notification informing them of the scheduled appointment slot and venue and he will then have to travel from his place of residence to the designated community testing facility, and return immediately after the test. Public transport should be avoided.
All travellers who enter Singapore from Phase 2 Travel Reopening (with the exception of Long Term Pass Holders who were granted entry approval prior to 15 June 2020) will also be required to pay for their Covid-19 tests. The prevailing charge for this test is around S$200.
c) Entry approval for Long Term Pass Holders from Phase 2 Travel Reopening
All Long Term Pass Holders as well as those who have been granted in-principle approval for the relevant Long Term Pass will continue to require prior approval from the relevant government agency (e.g., the Ministry of Manpower, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the Ministry of Education) before they are able to enter Singapore.
Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents do not need to obtain any prior approval before returning to Singapore.
Employers of work pass holders and their dependents will still be required to ensure that they are able to fulfil a stipulated list of additional responsibilities as an employer before they can bring the work pass holders back into Singapore.
The Singapore government has indicated that as the global and local health situations improve, it has increased and will continue to gradually increase the number of entry approvals given to Long Term Pass Holders, especially those with deep roots to Singapore or those with exigent circumstances. The Singapore government expects to be able to facilitate the entry and re-entry of more Long Term Pass Holders in the coming weeks.
The Singapore Ministry of Manpower has also begun to process Employment Pass and Dependent Pass applications for applicants even though they are not physically in Singapore.
All the above developments reassure that things are slowly returning to normal.
d) Short-Term Visitors
Currently, short-term visitors are still not allowed to enter Singapore, except for the following, subject to conditions:
1. Visitors issued with SafeTravel Pass.
2. Visitors with an approval letter of entry from the relevant agency in Singapore.
The SafeTravel Pass is a mandatory document for travellers arriving from approved countries/regions seeking to make essential business and official travel to Singapore under Green / Fast Lane arrangements.
As at the time of writing, this comprises of the Singapore-China Fast Lane, which commenced on 8 June 2020. The Singapore-China Fast Lane is currently being applied between Singapore and the following six Chinese provinces and municipalities (Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Tianjin and Zhejiang). Business or official travellers seeking to make essential travel via the Singapore-China Fast Lane to Singapore from the abovementioned six Chinese provinces and municipalities must be sponsored by either a Singapore-based company or a Singapore government agency, which will file an application on behalf of the traveller for a SafeTravel Pass.
Currently, only business or official travellers sponsored by a Singapore government agency may submit applications to use the Singapore-China Fast Lane. Applications for company-sponsored travellers to use the Singapore-China Fast Lane can be submitted at a later phase soon to be announced.
Aside from the SafeTravel Pass, short-term visitors who need to visit Singapore due to extenuating circumstances may submit their applications for entry into Singapore to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. Approval will be granted on a case-by-case basis.
Short-term visitors granted special prior approval to enter Singapore (except under the Green / Fast Lane arrangements, as these visitors will be exempt from SHN requirements) are subject to the same treatment with regard to SHN and Covid-19 test requirements, and charges, as Long Term Pass Holders.
As Singapore's border control measures continue to react and develop as the global and local situations change, it is important to check the latest travel advisory and restrictions relating to travel to Singapore if you are planning to travel to Singapore in the near future and to remain flexible with your travel plans as the world continues to tackle this crisis together.
For those who have suspended or delayed the applications for the relevant Long Term Passes and Singapore Permanent Residence status, it is now also possible to take appropriate measures to review and consider these applications again.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.