Many legitimate relationship applications refused because of abuse of system: Shanmugam

Some applicants could not answer questions about their supposed relationship.

Jane Zhang | July 26, 2021, 09:47 PM

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In Parliament on Monday (Jul. 26), Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam addressed a number of questions pertaining to the Covid-19 cluster linked to KTVs.

He also shared more about the establishment and removal of the boyfriend/girlfriend category of the Familial Ties Lane, which had been meant to allow Singaporeans and Permanent Residents to reunite with their foreign partners.

Boyfriend/girlfriend category of Familial Ties Lane

Shanmugam also addressed the issue of hostessing at the KTVs. He emphasised that since the onset of Covid-19, hostessing has not been allowed in any setting.

He further explained the boyfriend/girlfriend category of the Familial Ties Lane (FTL), which has been the subject of attention after the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) announced that the first reported case linked to the KTV cluster was a hostess who had entered Singapore through that category.

Since the start of the pandemic, short-term visitors have been banned from entering Singapore.

In October 2020, the government opened up the option to allow boyfriends and girlfriends to enter Singapore, in order to reunite Singaporeans with their foreign partners, after receiving numerous appeals on this.

At the same time, travellers from certain countries and regions deemed to have lower Covid-19 risk — including Vietnam — could seek entry into Singapore by applying for an air travel pass under the Unilateral Opening.

However, on Feb. 9, 2021, the Ministry of Health (MOH) cancelled the Unilateral Opening and banned short-term visitors from Vietnam under the air travel pass due to the worsening situation in Vietnam.

Some applications made them scratch their heads

Shanmugam stated that ICA then began to receive many applications for Vietnamese individuals to come to Singapore under the boyfriend/girlfriend category.

Some applications made them scratch their heads, he said, such as one applicant with multiple sponsors claiming to be her boyfriend, Singaporeans who applied to sponsor multiple girlfriends, and sponsors who were unable to answer questions about their relationship.

In March 2021, ICA removed the boyfriend/girlfriend category, "because we took the view that this was being abused", said Shanmugam.

ICA has also taken action against "dodgy" applications by rescinding approvals, barring travellers from entry into Singapore, and suspending travellers from future applications.

But Shanmugam quipped that while ICA and the Ministry of Home Affairs may not have been the first organisations people think of when it comes to "compassion", they did try to help with appeals:

"We did want to try and be compassionate and helpful, because of the number of appeals. And people want their loved ones to come in and (we) want to try and help. But if the system is abused, then we have to stop it. If it's mutated, we have to stop it."

Unfortunately, he said that this means that many legitimate applications are now also being refused.

16 women have had their passes cancelled

Shanmugam said that in recent operations, 29 women between the ages of 20 and 47 and of various nationalities have been arrested for offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and other laws.

They included permanent residents (PRs), Work Permit holders, S Pass holders, short-term pass holders, one who entered under the unilateral opening, five who entered under the girlfriend category, Long-Term Visit Pass holders, and other passes including Student's Pass and Dependent's Pass.

So far, 16 women have had their passes cancelled and have been, or will be, deported, Shanmugam said. Investigations are ongoing for the other women.

"If they say they weren't working, then we have to show that they were in breach. And it's often cat and mouse, and as members will know, we can't use TraceTogether data for this."

Top photos screenshot from MCI via Mothership and by Joshua Lee.