Thumbs down for immigration cheat

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Thumbs down for immigration cheat
Woman nabbed thanks to new thumbprint system for foreigners’ Long Term Pass card
By Tay Shi’an
July 15, 2009     Print Ready           Email Article

SHE had earlier been deported and banned from re-entering Singapore.

But the Chinese national returned last year, under a different name.

Now, thanks to a new identity card system for foreigners, which includes a thumbprint, she has been caught again.

Luo Aifang, 31, is one of 28 immigration offenders nabbed since the Long Term Pass (LTP) card was introduced last August, said the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

Think of it as the new ‘green IC’ for foreigners staying in Singapore long-term.

The LTP card replaces the old laminated cards and stamp endorsement on travel documents for foreigners on long-term visit pass, student pass, employment pass, and soon, dependant pass.

It is being rolled out in phases.

Like the pink IC for Singaporeans and blue ICs for PRs, the green LTP card shows the owner’s photo and thumbprint – features not included in the old cards.

This means all new applicants, and those who wish to renew their passes, will be screened and have their thumbprints entered into a database, thus enhancing security.

The LTP card is made of the same polycarbonate material as ICs, and has the same stringent anti-forgery security features like laser-engraved particulars.

About 55,000 of the 190,000 foreigners on the long-term visit pass and student passhave converted to the new LTP card, said ICA.

And it was during this process that Luo was caught.

Security features

She had been punished for various immigration offences in 2005. But she had used the identity of her sister, Luo Aizhen, at that time.

In December last year, she returned under her own name, as a study mama accompanying her daughter.

Under the old system, thumbprint scans are not mandatory, and only random cases are picked for checks. So Luo could have got away.

But when she showed up at the ICA Building on 17Jun, her thumbprint was taken for the new LTP card.

That’s when the database showed it matched the print for ‘Luo Aizhen’, and she was arrested.

Luo was sentenced to a year’s jail and a $2,500 fine.

Mr Lim Hui Kwan, manager for customer services (social visit pass) at ICA’s visitor services centre, said that previously, it was easier for illegal immigrants to come into Singapore with an assumed identity, like Luo did.

The old cards had their own security features – for example, they were made of a special paper, like currency, but immigration offenders sometimes took advantage of their weaknesses.

They tried to forge their own cards, modify particulars like expiry dates on existing cards, or pass off someone else’s identification as their own.

Said Mr Lim: ‘With the new card, it is almost impossible for this group of people to use (such means) to try and stay in Singapore on a long-term basis.

‘The card itself is a deterrent. It’s very hard to forge. They cannot get away with it…’

Enforcement officers on the ground have also been issued with portable devices that can read NRICs and LTP cards and take a ‘live’ thumbprint to see if the person is the rightful owner.

Mr Ivan Sim, a senior customer services executive at ICA’s visitor services centre, said the process of issuing the cards has been streamlined.

Previously, applicants for long-term passes needed to go to the ICA building twice. To get the LTP card, applicants need only one appointment, if they apply online. Fees for the card come to $90, though people of some nationalities will also have to pay a visa fee.

Procedures at ICA – including scanning of thumbprint, taking the photograph and printing the card – should be completed within 30 minutes, said Mr Sim.

LTP card holders can also enjoy faster immigration clearance at checkpoints if their passports are compliant with certain standards.

There is no deadline for foreigners staying long-term in Singapore to convert to the LTP card.

But eventually, all foreigners under the four types of passes will get the new card.

Why the new card matters to S’poreans

WHY should the average Singaporean know about the new Long Term Pass card for foreigners?

It may not seem obvious, but one big reason is to protect yourself.

The green card’s hard-to-forge design, like the pink Singapore IC, means people would be able to spot a fake more easily.

It makes it harder for a foreigner to take someone else’s card and pass it off as his own because of the photograph.

This is important, for example, if you are renting out a flat to a foreigner and want to check if he or she is here legally.

Remember: By renting out your home to an illegal immigrant, you can be fined, or even jailed if you had blatantly disregarded rules on checking particulars.

So look carefully at the new card and remember the key security features.

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