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November 1998, Volume 5, Number 11

Singapore: Caning for Illegals

The Singapore government announced on October 5 that it will impose mandatory caning for illegal immigrants and people who abet illegal entry. The measure, passed by the Parliament in September, goes into effect immediately.

Attempted illegal entry and departure now carry the same penalties as actual illegal entry and departure. Attempted illegal entry is punishable by up to six months' jail and a mandatory minimum of three strokes of the cane, compared to the previous maximum of two years' jail and a fine of S$4,000 ($2,360) with no caning. The maximum penalty for attempted illegal departure will be six months' jail and a fine of S$2,000 dollars, compared to three months and the same fine before. Men and women older than 50 are exempt from caning, but have to pay the highest fine.

On October 12, the Singapore Parliament passed the Employment of Foreign Workers (Amendment) Act to allow the government to introduce identity cards with fingerprints for foreign workers. The aim is to impede the use of forged documents. Foreign workers entering Singapore will have their fingerprints taken before they are issued a work permit and those already working in the country must have their fingerprints taken when their permit is renewed. The measure covers an estimated 450,000 foreign workers; it excludes expatriates and professional workers.

More than 2,000 foreigners have been caught without valid work permits in the first eight months of 1998, more than double the number in the same period in 1997.

Singapore is continuing to try to attract foreign professionals through a drive begun in August 1997. Singapore believes it must recruit foreign talent because it has a small labor pool of 3.6 million people, many of whom have limited education. About half of the country's adult population has an education level below that of secondary schooling. The government is offering fast-track employment pass applications (two to three weeks) for foreign professionals, easing restrictions on measures such as allowing foreign husbands to qualify as dependents and offering discount rents on apartments.

Of the 530,000 foreigners now working in Singapore, 80,000 are professionals with employment passes. In 1996, there were 50,000 professionals among 300,000 foreign workers.

Unemployment in Singapore was 3.2 percent in June 1998, up from 1.7 percent in June, 1997

S. Karene Witcher, "Singapore looks to attract foreign professionals, even as the local job market slumps," Wall Street Journal, October 26, 1998. "Singapore to issue identity cards for foreign workers," Agence France Presse, October 14, 1998. "Foreign workers to get new identity cards," Straits Times, October 14, 1998. "Singapore imposes mandatory caning for illegal entrants," Agence France Presse, October 5, 1998. "Singapore to flog those who attempt to enter illegally," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 5, 1998.