Common Immigration Offences in Singapore

18.04.2024
Jeremy Cheong
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Jeremy Cheong

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+65 8800 8074

The laws on immigration in Singapore are governed by the Immigration Act 1959 (the IA). Under section 57 of the IA, there are fifteen different types of immigration offences.

Committing an immigration offence in Singapore can have serious consequences, as the court has the power to order substantial fines as well as lengthy prison sentences. In some situations, the offender may also be subject to caning.

In 2023, the number of immigration offenders arrested by the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) was 587, which showed an increase of 42% compared with 2022. This article addresses five of the more common immigration offences committed in Singapore. It explores the importance of compliance with these laws, with reference to two recent case studies.

Attempting to enter Singapore unlawfully

Any person who attempts to unlawfully enter the country will be guilty of an offence. A person who commits this offence may be subject to a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years, together with a fine of no more than S$4,000.

The ICA states what is required for a person to lawfully enter Singapore, including:

  1. A passport that is valid for 6 months after they arrive in the country (unless they hold a Singapore passport, in which case there is no minimum validity period required);
  2. A visa for short-term travellers; and
  3. An electronic SG arrival card that must be completed within three days before arrival in Singapore.

Additional public health requirements will also apply, and currently, travellers must produce a vaccination certificate for yellow fever within six days prior to their arrival. Failure to do so can result in quarantine for six days or that person being turned away from entering the country.

Abetting a person to unlawfully enter or leave Singapore

A person will also be guilty of an offence if they assist anyone in entering or leaving Singapore unlawfully. That person will be subject to a term of imprisonment of between 6 months and 2 years, as well as a fine not exceeding S$6,000.

If a person assists another person to enter the country, and the offence is committed within the meaning of Section 107(1)(b) or (c) of the Penal Code 1871, they may also be punished by a minimum of three strokes of the cane. The relevant sections of the Penal Code refer to abetment where a person:

…(b) engages with one or more other person or persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing, if an act or illegal omission takes place in pursuance of that conspiracy, and in order to the doing of that thing; or 

(c) intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of that thing.”

The more serious punishment of caning, therefore, aims to deter groups of people from working together to commit such an offence. 

Engaging in the business of conveying, in or out of Singapore, any prohibited immigrant

It is unlawful for somebody to be involved in the business or trade of moving a person whom the offender knows or has reasonable grounds to believe is an illegal immigrant. This includes moving people “in or on any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or train”.

Section 57(6) gives rise to a presumption that a person is engaged in the business or trade of conveying illegal immigrants into or out of the country, if it is proved they have conveyed them in any of the modes of transport mentioned. The responsibility will then be on the accused to show to the court they are not engaged in such a business or trade.

The punishment for this offence is even more serious, with imprisonment ranging from between 2 to 5 years. The offender will also be subject to caning of at least three strokes unless they fall within the following categories of person under Section 325(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010:

  1. Women;
  2. Men who are over 50 years of age; and
  3. Men sentenced to death whose sentences have not been reduced.

The punishment is also subject to Section 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which states any sentence for caning must not be carried out in instalments, i.e. it must be given all at once.

Harbouring

Anyone who harbours another person in the following situations will be guilty of an offence:

  1. Where they know that person has committed an immigration offence;
  2. Where they have recklessly disregarded whether that person has committed an immigration offence; or
  3. Where they have negligently (i.e. carelessly) failed to establish whether that person has committed an immigration offence.

Where situations b. or c. above apply, there is a presumption under Section 57(7) that the offender has harboured an illegal immigrant if it is proven they have given shelter to the immigrant. The accused will then have to satisfy the court this is not the case.

A recent example of this is the case in February 2023 involving Woo Chee Kit, who was found guilty of harbouring an illegal immigrant from China named He Yan. The court found Woo had assisted He Yan in finding a rental unit for her to stay in, and despite knowing she was a non-resident in Singapore, failed to sufficiently check whether her presence in the country was lawful.

This constituted harbouring under the IA, and Woo was sentenced to 6 months in prison. Another man, Wang Xiaozeng, who assisted with the harbouring, received a sentence of 44 months in prison together with a fine of S$1,400, although parts of this sentence related to separate offences he was found to have committed outside the IA.

The sentence for committing the offence of harbouring where situations a. and b. apply above, is between 6 months to 2 years in prison, and a fine of up to S$6,000. For those found guilty under situation c. above, the maximum prison sentence is 12 months, and the same maximum fine applies.

Employment of an illegal immigrant

It is also an offence for somebody to employ a person who has entered the country illegally. A person convicted of this offence will be punished with imprisonment of between 6 months and 2 years and will be liable to pay a fine of up to S$6,000.

Under Section 57(1A) of the IA, the offender will also be subject to caning if it is proven to the court they employed at least 5 illegal immigrants at the same time. This provision is subject to Sections 325(1) and 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, as referred to above.

If the offender is a body corporate, the court will punish the person within the company who provided the authority or consent to allow the offence to be carried out. The company itself will also be punished, but where it would ordinarily be subject to imprisonment if it were an individual, it will instead be liable to pay a fine of between S$100,000 and S$200,000.

In a recent case in September 2023, Poh Jinxiang was ordered to pay a fine of S$8,000 and given a prison sentence of 9 months and 2 weeks for illegally employing and harbouring an immigration offender. He was found to have employed a woman from Malaysia who did not have a valid work pass, whilst also allowing her to live with him. The fine exceeded the limit contained in the IA as Poh had also committed an offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, namely by employing a foreign person without a work pass. The fine for this offence under that Act ranges from S$5,000 to S$30,000.

Conclusion

It is evident from the legislation and case law that Singapore takes immigration offences seriously. The ICA is continuing to crack down on the number of offences and has made clear they will firmly enforce the laws under the IA whenever necessary.

People travelling to Singapore, whether permanently or temporarily, should check their eligibility for entry and ensure they have the relevant documents before travelling. Travellers should be prepared to present these documents when asked to do so at border control.

For those in Singapore looking to rent out living accommodation to non-residents or employ them, they must ensure to exercise due diligence when satisfying themselves of that person’s status in the country. The ICA provides guidance on this, and we have seen above that mere ignorance of these procedures will not be a sufficient defence.

If faced with a charge of an immigration offence, it is advisable to seek the assistance of an expert immigration lawyer as soon as possible, to understand your options moving forward.

Jeremy Cheong
Author

Jeremy Cheong

WhatsApp

+65 8800 8074

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