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April 1998, Volume 5, Number 4

Illegal Immigration in Singapore

The Singaporean government has taken steps to curb illegal immigration from Indonesia and elsewhere. Police carried out a series of highly publicized crackdowns throughout March, netting hundreds of illegal immigrants from various countries who had either been smuggled in or had overstayed their work visas. Indonesians do not need visas to enter Singapore.

On March 4, for example, a sweep drove Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis out of there cardboard box homes in Farrer Park. Most had lost construction jobs and were looking for other employment. On March 16, the Singaporean Home Affairs Minister announced that nationals of Myanmar and Bangladesh entering Singapore will be required to post bonds of $3,000 to $5,000 to discourage them from overstaying their tourist visas.

Illegal immigrants face penalties of up to six months in prison and three strokes of a rattan cane. Employers who hire illegal immigrants face two years in jail, fines of up to S$6,000 ($US1=S$1.6) and possible caning. In March 1998, judges reportedly increased the standard penalty on illegal immigrants to between four and six weeks imprisonment and between four and six strokes of the cane. The maximum penalty for entering Singapore illegally is six months jail and 12 strokes of the cane.

In 1997, 7,600 illegal immigrants were apprehended in Singapore, up from 5,710 in 1996. Between March 16 and March 20, Singapore police arrested nearly 800 illegal immigrant workers.

Singapore officials report the arrival of more illegal immigrants from South India, Myanmar, Thailand and China. According to some reports, Indonesian syndicates employ recruiters to travel from village-to-village promising unemployed men high-paying jobs in Singapore or Malaysia for fees of 800,000 to 1.5 million rupiah ($80-$170) or about three-month wages. Wages in rural Indonesia are reportedly 200,000 to 300,000 rupiah ($23 to $34) a month, compared with up to $200 a month on a construction site in Singapore.

The men are taken to Batam or Bintan, waiting until the taikong (syndicate leader) makes the boat trip to Singapore--25 minutes from Batam, or two hours from Bintan--and lands the migrants at Changi or the shoreline off Pasir, Panjang, Labrador or Jurong. In most cases, 10-15 Indonesians are packed into a seven-meter long sampan.

About five million of Indonesia's 90 million workers are currently unemployed, and there are expected to be 10 million unemployed Indonesians by the end of 1998.

Employment. Singapore is attempting to facilitate the process of employing some foreign workers. Employers in Singapore looking for foreign maids, for example, can apply for work permits through the Internet. After a bank certifies that the employer has the requisite income/assets, the application is transmitted electronically to the Ministry of Labor, and downloaded into the immigration's system at Changi Airport. Singapore's Ministry of Labor's Work Permit home page is />
The Ministry of Labor announced that the monthly levy or tax on employers who hire foreign workers would be reduced from S$200 to S$100 ($62) on April 1, 1998. The intent is to encourage employers to hire more skilled foreign workers.

The 21st Century Foreign Marriage office helps Singaporean men find mainland Chinese brides for $S2000.

"Singapore arrests 339 in illegal immigrant raids," Reuters, March 20, 1998. "Bonds for foreigners entering Singapore," Straits Times, March 16, 1998. "Govt 'should do more' to retrain those retrenched," The Straits Times (Singapore), March 10, 1998. "Singapore braces for illegal immigrants from Indonesia," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 9, 1998.