Last week the authorities in Singapore and Hong Kong announced details of a much-anticipated Air Travel Bubble (ATB) between the two countries, which commences this weekend on 22nd November, for an initial approved period until the end of the year. Up to two designated flights per day in each direction will be eligible for the programme.
On the face of it, the Singapore – Hong Kong ATB is a simple concept. Residents of either country can follow the prescribed process and make quarantine-free trips between the two cities for any purpose, including business or leisure.
One group is singled out for an extra step though, and that’s Singapore residents who are foreign Long-Term Pass (LTP) holders.
Once the ATB was announced, it was clarified that LTP holders would have to apply for entry approval before being permitted to return to Singapore after each trip they made on the ATB.
|Singapore Citizens &
|Singapore LTP Holders|
Almost immediately, many questions started coming in, especially from Employment Pass holders wanting to take a short trip to Hong Kong on the ATB.
- How can you apply for this approval?
- Must you have already left Singapore to apply?
- What if they say no?
We contacted a number of government departments to try and get some clarity on the process and answer some of these questions for our readers, though unfortunately the responses to date have been ‘passing the buck’ to a different department, or answering our question with our own question!
Thankfully we got some great information from two readers who had gone through the process for themselves and their partners in order to take a Hong Kong trip on the ATB later this month.
Why are pass holders applying for entry?
The first question some might have is why pass holders are even having to jump this additional hoop, since they can usually travel in and out of Singapore without restriction while their pass is valid.
The answer, of course, is COVID-19.
Since 28th March 2020, all pass holders not in Singapore have been required to apply for entry or return to the country, to help regulate arrival totals from high risk countries plus modulate pressure on SHN and quarantine facilities, since the arrival of Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents could not be easily (or popularly!) restricted.
“The implementation of the entry approval measure for LTP holders who wish to enter or return to Singapore will help agencies to regulate the inflow of people into Singapore in order to mitigate the risk of importation of COVID-19 cases.”Immigration & Checkpoints Authority
This doesn’t really apply to the ATB, which requires no Stay-Home Notice (SHN) or quarantine period, so it was unusual to see this requirement mentioned in the rules when returning from Hong Kong via this new process.
Nonetheless, it is a stated requirement.
How to apply
As a Long-Term Pass holder in Singapore, you probably won’t be applying personally for entry permission. Instead it is your company’s HR department or CorpPass Administrator who will apply on your behalf.
If your representative gives you a blank stare when you ask them to do this for you, direct them to this page:
Crucially, the request does not have to be made only after you have left Singapore (a common misconception, even shared by some HR departments).
Your employer can apply up to
30 days (Edit: now 60 days) prior to your intended date of entry (i.e. in this case, your return date from the Hong Kong ATB trip). There is even an online calculator to show the application window, which takes account of working days and public holidays.
The form your employer will complete was originally designed only for those returning to Singapore from overseas and completing SHN, without accounting for the new ATB arrangements. That makes it quite confusing because it asks for the details of where in Singapore the individual will serve SHN.
Recently though the form has been updated to include the following note:
Note: For pass holders entering from Hong Kong on designated Air Travel Bubble (ATB) flights, please enter the place they will be staying at in Singapore. They do not need to serve SHN.
Effectively therefore your employer needs to complete the form as follows:
How long it takes
Here’s when your employer will hear the outcome of your application:
|Application submitted:||Outcome received:|
|Monday to Friday, before 12pm||Same day|
|Monday to Friday, after 12pm||Next working day|
|Weekends or Public Holidays|
As you can see the turnaround is quite quick, so if you apply at an early opportunity there’s still ample time to plan your trip including hotels and other bookings, hopefully safe in the knowledge that you (or your entire party) will be eligible to return to Singapore.
Do note that we’ve already received reports that the outcome is not always sent during office hours, so for example a morning application on a working weekday might not come through until 9pm or so, at which time your HR representative has probably gone home.
Remember you will not receive the decision to your personal email, unless you are a Personal Employment Pass holder or EntrePass holder, for example.
You must print the approval
If the application is successful, your employer will be notified and should then forward the email to you.
That’s important because LTP holders will not be able to check in for their return flight without proof that they meet Singapore’s current entry requirements. On the Singapore Airlines booking page, it alerts you to any foreseen issues, based on the passport details entered for each passenger.
It is therefore vital that you have a printed copy of the entry approval document and take it with you on your trip. It will not only be required to check-in for your return flight, but must be presented to the Immigration officer in Singapore on arrival.
The arrival permission spans three days, the requested date of arrival and one day either side to account for contingencies, like missed or rescheduled flights.
Here’s an example for an entry approval for 29th November 2020:
Will the application be successful?
You will not be given permission to travel on the ATB if you work in the construction, marine shipyard, or process sectors. Those pass holders are not eligible to use the ATB at this stage, so frankly there is no point in applying.
Otherwise, while we cannot guarantee the outcome of your application, for the small number we have spoken to who have already completed the process it seems as though MOM is approving all these applications for ATB participants.
That’s fairly logical since a denial of entry on the ATB probably means the individual simply won’t go to Hong Kong in the first place, so will just remain in Singapore – the same net effect of going on the ATB and returning with entry permission!
The process is probably to ensure LTP holders working in those restricted industries don’t slip through the net, not to prevent those eligible from enjoying a break in Hong Kong.
COVID-19 has brought about this unusual extra step when entering Singapore from overseas for LTP holders, and there are certainly already a number of steps to complete to meet all the Hong Kong ATB requirements, but don’t let that put you off as the ‘extra step’ is actually quite straightforward.
Provided your HR department is switched on and processes the approvals on your behalf in a timely manner, within a month or even up to a few days before your trip, all should be well.
Our advice if you or one of your travelling party is an eligible pass holder would be to apply for the re-entry approval earlier rather than later, provided it’s within a month of your proposed return date, as this will then allow you to make your hotel bookings and other plans in Hong Kong without fear that you might not be able to take the trip at all.
To date, we’ve heard of no refusals, though of course you will be refused if you work in the construction, marine shipyard, or process sectors, which are not eligible to use the ATB at this stage.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)