Skip to content

Thread: On Covid-19 entry approvals and stranded NTU faculty and students

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
8 min read

1/ Here’s a thread on #Singapore's #Covid19 entry approvals process for foreigners, one university’s response, and what it might tell us about the government's attitude towards foreigners.

2/ While Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs) are allowed back into #Singapore, long-term pass holders (including those on work and student visas), are required to apply for entry approval before they can travel back to the country.

3/ The govt says approvals are “calibrated” to manage the risk of importing #Covid19. But pass holders and their loved ones, while understanding the extraordinary circumstances, told me last year that the process was opaque and caused a lot of stress.

“No End in Sight”: Waiting for permission to return to Singapore
When L left Singapore in the middle of March to visit her parents in Germany, she would never have guessed that she’d be away for quite so long. At that time, Singapore’s response to COVID-19 was still being hailed as an example for the world to follow, and there was little to suggest that this was …

4/ One thing that was brought up repeatedly when I was reporting that story was frustration over a lack of clarity re: the approval process and the criteria used to decide who and how many to let in per day. People could only apply again and again, and hope.

A screencap from my June 2020 story.

5/ Over a year later, it doesn’t seem like things have changed very much. People are still applying again and again and hoping. It’s tough to make plans when you have no idea when/whether you’ll be given permission to return to Singapore.

6/ In May, the #Singapore government stopped accepting entry approval applications unless you were in Australia, Brunei, China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. (Australia was later removed from the list.)

COVID-19: Singapore stops accepting new entry applications for work pass holders from higher-risk countries
Workers needed for key strategic projects and infrastructural works will be allowed to enter, says the Manpower Ministry.

7/ This meant that lots of pass holders weren’t able to get permission to return. While the government resumed applications for fully vaccinated work pass holders yesterday, that’s still just resuming applications. It doesn’t mean they can all come back right away.

7A/ (It’s worth noting that the announcement about resumption of applications was in relation to work pass holders. It’s not clear if the same applies to student pass holders.)

Fully vaccinated travellers from 8 countries can apply to serve stay-home notice at their residence
SINGAPORE: Travellers from eight countries who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will soon be able to apply to serve their stay-home notice at their place of residence rather than a dedicated facility, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday (Aug 6). From 11.59pm on Aug 20, fully vacci

8/ Given this situation, it probably surprises no one that academics employed by universities in #Singapore have been affected and are stuck abroad, unable to return before the new academic year. (Classes started on 10 August.) My reporting so far pertains mainly to @NTUsg.

9/ Some intl faculty of @NTUsg had to leave #Singapore for various reasons, such as family emergencies or caregiving obligations. Before they left, NTU had them sign undertakings saying they'd be put on no-pay leave if they couldn’t get back in time.

Lecturers stranded abroad as a new academic year begins
This story was directly emailed to Milo Peng Funders, who will never miss an issue of We, The Citizens. It’s also freely accessible via the website. Milo Peng Funders keep this newsletter running, as well as supporting my other independent writing and civil society work. Please become one if you

10/ NTU is now making good on this undertaking. Instead of allowing the stranded academics to teach their classes remotely, the university is putting them on no-pay leave. So they’re stuck outside of #Singapore *and* they’re not receiving their salaries (but have to pay rent).

11/ This is despite the fact that, due to #Covid19, classes will be “generally” held online until 20 August. In-person classes will resume on 23 August, but classes with more than 50 people will still have to be delivered online.

FAQs on Covid-19
A screencap from the above link.

12/ There are exceptions: if an academic has been granted “compassionate leave”, they’re allowed to teach remotely. BUT! They’ll only be paid for the days they teach: if you have classes on three days, you’ll only be paid for those days instead of receiving your full salary.

13/ International students are also caught between the entry approval process and @NTUsg. Like with faculty, the uni advised them not to leave #Singapore during the vacation. But some did ‘cos they haven’t seen their families in ages, or there were family obligations/emergencies.

13A/ (Worth keeping in mind: Some of these international students come from countries, such as India, that have been hit hard by #Covid19. Some of them have lost loved ones during this pandemic.)

14/ @NTUsg also made the international students sign undertakings before they left #Singapore after the end of the last semester. Their undertakings say if they can’t come back in time, they’ll have to take a Leave of Absence.

15/ There are at least 30 international students (Year 2 and up) from @NTUsg who are now stuck in India, ‘cos #Singapore is not approving applications from India for now. There are likely more international students elsewhere.

“Choosing between education and family”: The international students’ dilemma
This story was directly emailed to Milo Peng Funders, who will never miss an issue of We, The Citizens. It’s also freely accessible via the website. Milo Peng Funders keep this newsletter running, as well as supporting my other independent writing and civil society work. Please become one if you
From ICA's SafeTravel page for student pass holders.

16/ These students have been given deadlines to apply for a Leave of Absence. They’ve been told that, once @NTUsg goes back to in-person classes (except for large-group lectures), there will be no accommodation for international students who are still stuck outside #Singapore.

17/ HOWEVER, the students found out that international freshmen currently unable to enter #Singapore are allowed online classes. When asked why the different treatment, a student was told that they were the ones who chose to leave despite advice, and they’d signed undertakings.

18/ The students were told that there would be no online learning for them ‘cos it would be unfair to the international students who hadn’t left #Singapore. @NTUsg has asked them to decide whether they are going to apply for Leave of Absence and take at least a semester off.

19/ Both stranded faculty and students told me, separately, that they feel like they’re being punished or penalised for leaving #Singapore, even though they had their reasons for travelling. It’s also out of their hands when they can return.

20/ Now we have a situation where there are @NTUsg international faculty with docked/no salaries, and international students who will likely have to delay graduation. Needless to say, everyone I’ve spoken to in this situation is not happy; they are frustrated and stressed out.

21/ Like those I spoke to last year, @NTUsg’s beleaguered international faculty and students are experiencing how, while #Singapore portrays itself as an open global city eager to welcome foreigners to live, work, and study, this can fall apart when push comes to shove.

Screencap from my June 2020 story.

22/ The context for this is the #Singapore government’s view of foreigners: welcome in times of plenty, “ballast” to be shed when things aren’t going so well.

23/ There’s no political pressure to change this approach. There’s probably pressure to double down on it, or get harsher, as there is unhappiness among Singaporean voters about immigration and foreigners, who are seen as cheaper alternatives pushing Singaporeans out of jobs.

24/ The unhappiness about immigration in #Singapore was enough to make it a key point that Prime Minister @leehsienloong addressed in his National Day Message on Sunday.

Singapore has to adjust its policies on foreigners: PM Lee
The Singapore government will have to adjust its policies “to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners” in the country, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Message on Sunday (8 August).
Screencap from link above.

25/ Even though #Singapore welcomes foreigners, in a period like the one we’re living through, the fact that these long-term pass holders have lives, homes, families, jobs, studies in this city don’t seem to be very high up in the minds of those calling the shots.

26/ That’s my sense of the government side. More specific to this story is @NTUsg’s policies re: faculty and students who are still overseas (not of their own volition). I’m not sure what the reasons behind NTU’s decisions are; I’ve asked but received no response so far.

27/ I understand that it’d be much easier for the university if people just didn’t go anywhere. But that seems unrealistic when you have a sizeable international faculty and student body. Emergencies happen, people have obligations. People just miss home and their families.

28/ For an institution proud of being 9th in the World’s Most International Universities 2021 ranking, it seems odd that there’d be so little accommodation for faculty and students in the middle of a pandemic.

Our University Rankings
Twitter Threads

Kirsten Han

A Singaporean independent journalist, activist, and cat slave.