July 31, 2022

‘We were hit by a tsunami’: ICA officers look back at passport application surge in June

By brit

SINGAPORE – He had planned to celebrate his daughter’s second birthday with his wife and in-laws in a restaurant in Bugis in mid-June, but Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer Muhammad Asri Othman reached the venue only at about 9pm, when it was taking last orders.

Sergeant (3) Asri had volunteered to stay behind even after his shift ended at 5pm at the ICA Building in Kallang Road, to assist Singaporeans who urgently needed to renew their passports and those who had formed queues outside the building even after closing hours.

A primary screening officer at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, SGT (3) Asri was among the nearly 300 officers re-deployed to ICA’s passport unit after applications surged to more than 7,000 per day in May.

SGT(3) Asri said: “My wife texted me a few times later in the evening and told me they would wait for me. I felt bad for being late. You want to be there for your children and these important milestones.

“But at the same time, I wanted to help some members of the public who had been waiting for four or five hours for their passports because they need to travel overseas to see their family after two years of not being able to do so during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Inspector (2) Liew Yi Hui, 29, a team leader at Changi Airport handling immigration clearance, was also roped in to help with crowd management and issuing passports.

One challenge he faced was assessing how urgent the requests for help were.

“We’ve had to explain to Singaporeans in some cases that their requests may be less urgent, such as when they say they need a passport this week but when we find out more from them, we realise the trip takes place next month.”

He is grateful that most Singaporeans he encountered were understanding.

“Some of them have even written us letters of appreciation. We have a board where we have framed these up. These messages encourage us to keep going on.”

Senior Assistant Commissioner Dominic Chua, director of ICA’s citizen services centre, said: “We were hit by a tsunami (of applications).. Our officers have been working very hard and I’m really thankful to them.”