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Iris, face scanning for immigration clearance at all checkpoints since July

Iris, face scanning for immigration clearance at all checkpoints since July

A man demonstrates the use of a biometric identifier at Woodlands Checkpoint on Oct 28, 2020. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Iris and face scanning are now the main biometric markers for travellers at all immigration checkpoints, replacing fingerprints, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said on Wednesday (Oct 28).

At a demonstration at Woodlands Checkpoint on Wednesday morning, travellers at the automated immigration lanes scanned their passports as usual and passed through the first set of flappers. At the second set of flappers, where their thumbprints would normally be checked, they were asked to look at a machine, which scanned their irises and facial features after they had removed their masks.

The system is currently for those who have enrolled their iris and facial biometrics with ICA. Fingerprints will still be used if the other two biometric identifiers are not available. 

More than 2 million or 70 per cent of Singaporeans aged six and above with valid passports have been enrolled, along with 130,000 permanent residents, ICA said. 

This includes Singaporeans who have a K-series passport, and citizens, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and international travellers in the Frequent Traveller Programme who have enrolled their facial and iris biometrics. Children below six will not be eligible as their physical features and related biometrics are still developing.

A biometric identifier at Woodlands Checkpoint, on Oct 28, 2020. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

International travellers who enrol their fingerprint, iris and face information at the manual counter on their arrival in Singapore can also use it for departure clearance and future travel.

For those who have not been enrolled, they will be prompted to clear immigration using their fingerprints at the automated gate. They can also enrol on the spot at the checkpoints’ manual counters while on a journey.

“At the manual counters, our officers will capture the biometrics that need to be enrolled and that will automatically be stored in the system for future use,” said Deputy Superintendent Melvin Tiang, the deputy head of operations development at ICA. “You don’t have to purposely make a trip down to ICA building for enrolment.”

The new contactless system has been active since July and has been rolled out at land, sea and air checkpoints, but does not extend to immigration points for cars and vehicles for now.

READ: Iris, facial scanning trial for immigration clearance under way at Tuas Checkpoint

When using the contactless immigration clearance, travellers must remove their masks and must not wear sunglasses, a cap or other gear that may block the face. They should also not wear coloured or patterned contact lenses as that interferes with the scanning of the iris.


Iris patterns have a higher degree of variation and uniqueness than fingerprints and are more “robust and reliable” for identification purposes, said the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) at a media briefing on Wednesday.

An iris scan provides almost 250 feature points for matching, compared to about 100 for a fingerprint. The iris also does not alter as much with age, according to HTX. Fingerprints can fade due to ageing, scarring or dryness.

While both the eyes and face will be scanned concurrently, the iris will be used as the primary identifier, while facial recognition provides a second check of a person’s identity, the agency said.

“The use of the two biometric identifiers will provide even more reliable authentication of the identity of travellers and will further strengthen ICA’s ability to safeguard Singapore’s borders,” HTX said.

A man demonstrates the use of a biometric identifier at Woodlands Checkpoint on Oct 28, 2020. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Another advantage is that the iris and face scans can be done without contact, providing a “more hygienic and efficient way“ of immigration clearance.

“This is important as we reopen our borders against the backdrop of COVID-19,” said DSP Tiang.

To support the new system, HTX has developed a Multi-Modal Biometric System to centralise all biometric services and data.

The roll-out of iris and face scanning is part of ICA’s plans towards a “new clearance concept”, where Singapore travellers can potentially walk through immigration without showing their passports.

“In the future, we intend to allow residents to be able to clear our immigration system even without presenting a passport, and this will come from 2022 onwards when we implement the New Clearance Concept,” DSP Tiang said.

Source: CNA/ga