Iris and facial scanning installed at all Singapore immigration checkpoints

Staff Writer, Singapore
·Editorial Team
·3-min read
Iris and facial scanners at immigration checkpoints in Singapore.
Iris and facial scanners at immigration checkpoints in Singapore. (PHOTO: Immigration and Checkpoints Authority)

SINGAPORE — A new mode of immigration clearance, using iris patterns and facial features, will replace the fingerprints method as the main identification system at all of Singapore’s land, sea and air checkpoints.

In a media release on Wednesday (28 October), the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said that all its automated and manual immigration lanes and counters at passenger halls have already been equipped with iris and facial scanners since July.

“Iris patterns and facial features will replace fingerprints as the primary biometric identifiers for immigration clearance,” ICA said in the media release.

“Fingerprints will be used as a secondary biometric identifier for travellers who are unsuccessful in their iris and facial scans.”

Travellers approaching the automated immigration lanes will be prompted to use their iris and facial biometrics for immigration clearance. If such authentication is unsuccessful, they will be prompted to clear immigration using their fingerprints.

Those using the iris and facial scans for immigration clearance are advised not to wear sunglasses, caps or other head gear that obstruct their iris and facial images when clearing immigration.

They are also advised not to wear coloured or patterned contact lenses. Face masks must be removed during immigration clearance.

How to be eligible for this mode of clearance

ICA has started enrolling the iris images of Singapore citizens and permanent residents since 2017, and these travellers are now eligible for this new mode of clearance.

Citizens, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and international travellers on the Frequent Traveller Programme (FTP) who are keen to enrol their iris and facial biometrics can seek the assistance of ICA officers. They can do either at the checkpoints when they travel or when they visit the ICA Building for immigration facilities such as passport renewal or identity card re-registration.

Children who are below six years of age will not be eligible to use iris and facial scans for clearance, as their physical features are still developing and may not provide a reliable means of authentication. They will be enrolled at a later age.

First-time foreign visitors to Singapore will need to enrol their iris, facial and fingerprint biometrics on arrival at the manual immigration counters. They will be able to use automated clearance when they depart Singapore.

For their subsequent trips to Singapore, they can clear immigration using their iris and facial biometrics at the manual counters, if they are using the same passport as when their biometrics were enrolled.

Why the change from fingerprints to iris and facial biometrics

ICA said in the media release that, by using iris patterns instead of fingerprints for identification, issues with fingerprint verification – such as deterioration of fingerprints due to ageing, scarring or dryness – are avoided.

Secondly, iris patterns have a higher degree of variation and uniqueness than fingerprints, and are therefore more reliable for identification purposes.

“An iris scan provides almost 250 feature points for matching, as compared to about 100 feature points for a fingerprint. In addition, specialised equipment is required to conduct the iris scan, which makes it less susceptible to misuse,” ICA said.

Iris and facial scans are done concurrently to strengthen the identification process, as facial recognition provides a second check of a person’s identity.

For travellers, the new immigration system offers more hygienic, more convenient and more efficient immigration clearance.

ICA said it seeks to transform Singapore’s immigration clearance by 2022, when Singapore residents may be able to clear immigration without the need to present a passport.

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