Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
In 2019, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) carried out more than 100 operations to sieve out and remove immigration offenders in Singapore, arresting 932 such offenders. Of these, 128 were illegal immigrants and 804 were overstayers.
Though a drop from the year before, this is still a relatively high number that may pose some cause for concern to the authorities.
However, who exactly are “immigration offenders”, and what are the consequences of falling into this category of offenders? This article aims to address these questions and other related queries, as well as to provide some guidance on how to avoid committing immigration offences.
The Offence of Illegal Immigration
Who is considered an “illegal immigrant”?
Simply put, a person will be considered an illegal immigrant if he/she, being a foreigner:
- Enters or leaves Singapore without valid documentation, such as a valid pass or entry permit lawfully issued to him by ICA;
- Obtained his/her valid pass or any other documentation by unlawful means, such as by forging passports or visa entries;
- Submits false information in the relevant form(s) or by producing misleading documents to the immigration officer; and/or
- Falls into the category of “prohibited immigrants”
Who are “prohibited immigrants”?
Section 8(3) of the Immigration Act sets out a list of specific classes of people who are considered “prohibited immigrants”. A person considered a “prohibited immigrant” is barred from entering Singapore unless he possesses a valid pass. Whether a person is considered a “prohibited immigrant” is determined by ICA, though the person may appeal against ICA’s decision and attempt to prove the contrary.
Some notable categories of “prohibited immigrants” include those:
- Suffering from a contagious or infectious disease which may present a danger to those in Singapore;
- Suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) or infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV);
- Convicted in any country of an offence for which a sentence of imprisonment has been passed, have not received a free pardon and are deemed undesirable immigrants by the ICA;
- Considered undesirable immigrants by the Minister for Home Affairs as a result of information received from any source or from any government through official or diplomatic channels;
- Whom the Minister for Home Affairs thinks should be prohibited from entry in the interests of public security or by reason of any economic, industrial, social, educational or other conditions in Singapore; and
- Where required to produce valid travel documents, is found to be in possession of forged or altered travel documents.
What are the valid documents needed to enter Singapore?
Anyone wanting to enter Singapore must possess:
- A passport that is valid for at least 6 months
- Sufficient funds for the length of their intended stay
- A submitted Electronic Arrival Card or a completed Disembarkation/Embarkation Card
- A valid Singapore visa (if required)
- A confirmed onward or return ticket (where applicable)
- Evidence that you can enter your next destination (such as a visa)
- A Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, if applicable.
For short-term visitors, you will receive a Short-Term Visit Pass (STVP) upon arrival if you are eligible for entry into Singapore. This allows you to stay in Singapore for any time between 30 to 90 days, subject to the immigration officer’s discretion.
Though a visa alone is not, and does not guarantee, a visit pass, it is equivalent to a pre-entry permission to travel to and enter Singapore. Hence, without a visa, you cannot be granted a valid pass, and any attempt to enter Singapore may mean you will be classified as an illegal immigrant as well.
Penalties for illegal immigration and related offences
Under the Immigration Act, a person found to have illegally entered or left Singapore without a valid pass or entry permit is punishable with a jail term of up to 6 months and at least 3 strokes of the cane (or a fine of up to $6,000 if the offender cannot be caned, such as where the offender is above 50 years old, or female).
For using or possessing forged or altered entry permits, passes or visas and/or making a false statement to obtain such documents, the punishment is a fine of up to $4,000 and/or a jail term of up to 12 months, respectively.
What is the Offence of Overstaying?
While an illegal immigrant does not enter Singapore through legal means, an overstayer is different, in that he may have entered the country legally, but has remained in Singapore beyond the expiration of his pass or permit.
This may occur in cases of:
- Divorce: For example, if you are a foreigner who married a Singaporean and moved to Singapore, your pass will likely be revoked upon confirmation of your divorce. This is because, both the Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP), which is issued by ICA, and Dependant’s Pass, which is issued by the Ministry of Manpower, (both of which allow you to stay in Singapore) are conditional on you remaining someone’s spouse. Hence, upon the formalisation of your divorce, you will not meet the criteria for both passes which will be revoked accordingly. Nevertheless, you should automatically receive an STVP that usually entitles you to stay in Singapore for another 30 days.
- Revocation of Singapore citizenship: Under the Immigration Act, once your Singapore citizenship is revoked, and therefore ceases, you cannot remain in Singapore for more than 24 hours after the date on which you cease to be a Singapore citizen. Nevertheless, you may apply to ICA for a permit or pass which authorises you to temporarily remain in Singapore. This should be done before the expiry of the 24 hours.
Generally, you will need to leave Singapore before you reach the end of the period of stay granted to you, unless you have applied for an extension or gained employment (see below). Otherwise, if you stay in Singapore beyond the period of stay granted to you, you will be considered an overstayer.
What to do if you wish to stay in Singapore for up to 90 days after the expiry of your pass or permit
You may apply for an extension of stay of your STVP for up to 90 days if you are:
- A foreigner with family ties in Singapore (if you are a spouse, sibling, parent, child or parent-in-law of a Singapore Citizen (SC) or a Singaporean Permanent Resident (PR)); or
- Seeking medical treatment in Singapore.
For online applications using the ICA e-service, however, the maximum period of your extended stay is 89 days and you must also fulfil the following conditions:
- (At the time of application) Your visit pass has a remaining of at least 3 days excluding weekends and public holidays; and
- You must not return to Singapore within 5 days of your departure.
What to do if you wish to stay in Singapore beyond 90 days after the expiry of your pass or permit
If you wish to stay in Singapore over an extended duration – for example, beyond 90 days – you may want to consider applying for either an LTVP or Permanent Residency (PR) status.
The difference between the two is that a person holding an LTVP is only allowed to stay in Singapore for a specified period. In contrast, a person with PR status may reside in Singapore indefinitely.
However, those applying for PR status will have to meet a more stringent criteria, as ICA will take into account the applicant’s ability to contribute to Singapore and his/her commitment to sinking roots (i.e. starting a family here).
The following categories of people may apply for an LTVP or PR status:
Note that you may apply for both an LTVP and PR status at the same time.
Seeking employment if you wish to continue staying in Singapore after a divorce
In the case of a divorce, once your LTVP or Dependant’s Pass is revoked, you will generally not be allowed to remain in Singapore. However, as mentioned above, you should automatically receive a STVP that usually entitles you to stay in Singapore for another 30 days.
Unless you are eligible to apply for an extension of stay (subject to the conditions mentioned above) you will need to leave Singapore after this STVP expires. Thereafter, you will be considered an overstayer.
Hence, should you foresee divorce to be a realistic possibility, you are advised to seek employment before the divorce actually materialises. The 30-day period following the divorce is only meant to afford breathing space for those wishing to leave Singapore. Thus if you desire to remain here after your divorce, it is best to avoid having to scramble to find a job within this short span of time.
In this regard, you will have to apply to the Ministry of Manpower for a work pass.
To find out about the different categories of work passes you may apply for, depending on the type of employment you are seeking and the salary paid out, you may refer to the MOM website.
Penalties for overstaying and related offences
Should you be guilty of overstaying in Singapore for up to 90 days, you may be sentenced to a maximum fine of $4,000 and/or a jail term of up to 6 months. Overstaying beyond 90 days may result in a maximum of 6 months’ imprisonment and a minimum of 3 strokes of the cane (or up to a $6,000 fine if you cannot be caned).
For not possessing a valid permit or pass, you will be liable for a fine up to $4,000 and/or a jail term of up to 6 months if the length of your unauthorised stay does not exceed 90 days. If it exceeds 90 days, you may be sentenced to at least 3 strokes of the cane (or fined up to $6,000 if you cannot be caned) and up to a 6 months’ jail term.
What if I’m Not an Overstayer or Illegal Immigrant Myself, but am Merely Housing Such People?
The law also prohibits you from housing, or “harbouring”, overstayers or illegal immigrants. Should you choose to rent out your premises to a foreigner, you must carry out all 3 of the following checks:
- Check the tenant’s original permit or pass;
- Check the permit or pass to ensure that the particulars on the permit or pass largely correspond with those on the tenant’s passport; and
- Check with the issuing authority – either ICA or the Ministry of Manpower – that the permit or pass is valid at the material time.
If you are found to have given shelter to an immigration offender, you will be presumed to have done so recklessly or negligently, unless you can prove the contrary.
“Recklessly” simply means the person only carried out one of the three mandatory checks mentioned above. A person who knowingly or recklessly harbours an immigration offender may be liable for a jail term of between 6 months and 2 years, and fined up to $6,000.
For example, a 46-year-old Bangladeshi man, Younus, was sentenced to 9 months and 2 weeks of jail in May 2019 for letting out his unit to another Bangladeshi, Hajra Md Naimal. Hajra’s Special Pass had expired for more than a year before ICA officers finally arrested him upon checking Younus’ unit.
As Younus had not asked Hajra for any documents to verify the validity of his stay in Singapore, he had failed to carry out at least 2 of the 3 checks required and was thus considered to have acted with “reckless disregard” under the law.
On the other hand, a person who negligently harbours an immigration offender may only have carried out 2 of the 3 checks. If so, he/she may be jailed up to 12 months and/or fined a maximum of $6,000.
All in all, it is clear that Singapore takes a firm stance against immigration offenders and those who aid in the commission of their offence(s). Severe consequences await those who attempt to circumvent Singapore’s immigration requirements, with the repercussions being potentially even more severe for those who harbour such immigration offenders.
On this note, it is key to distinguish between two possible scenarios if you have been found to be overstaying. On one hand, if you are charged with a criminal offence mentioned in this article, you will be entitled to due judicial process, and you may engage a lawyer. If you are facing the possibility of a fine or imprisonment, you probably fall in this category.
On the other hand, the Minister for Home Affairs has the discretion under the Immigration Act to decide that it is undesirable for a foreigner to remain in Singapore, and so order him to leave (i.e. be repatriated) and barred from re-entering Singapore. You may not be charged with any criminal offence, but this means the court process is also inapplicable to you. You will also not be able to challenge the repatriation order.
Thus, if you wish to enter and continue staying in Singapore legally, you should ensure that you possess the requisite documentation to do so. You may wish to visit the ICA website for more details on making the necessary applications.
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