Resumption Of Singapore-Malaysia Cross-Border Travel A Cause For Optimism

On July 1 2020, Singaporean and Malaysian authorities announced their plans to resume cross-border travel via reciprocal green lane (RGL) and periodic commuting arrangement (PCA) schemes for essential business and official travellers and long-term pass holders. The Malaysian borders have remained shut since March 18, making this announcement a welcome cause for rejoice for those stuck on either side of the border.

Last week, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishamuddin Hussein announced in a joint statement that the two schemes are meant to address  the needs of different groups of cross-border travellers between both countries

Reciprocal Green Lane and Period Commuting Arrangement schemes

The RGL enables cross-border travel for essential business and official purposes. Eligible travellers will be subject to current COVID-19 prevention and public health measures mutually agreed upon by both Singapore and Malaysia, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests. They must also submit their travel itineraries to relevant authorities prior to travel.

The PCA scheme will allow residents of both countries who are long-term immigration pass holders for business and work purposes in the other country to enter said country for work. After at least 3 consecutive months in the work country, they may return to their home country for short-term home leave, after which they may re-enter their country of work to continue work for at least another 3 consecutive months. 

Prior to the borders between Singapore and Malaysia being shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 300,000 travellers utilised the causeway everyday, with more than 100,000 of those travellers being Malaysian citizens commuting between the two countries for work purposes. Due to the shutting of borders, however, many of these Malaysian commuters have since lost their jobs and are separated from their families.

Cross-border travel eligibility still unclear

As of yet, there are still further announcements and clarifications that will be made before the official start of these schemes on August 10. Who exactly is eligible for the green lane and periodic commuting arrangement schemes is still unclear.

In a Bloomberg interview from May, Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, remarked that essential business travellers would include skilled technicians to need to maintain critical systems around the world and senior management from multinational companies.

According to the president of the Malaysian Association in Singapore, Aarathi Arumugam, it is still unclear which Malaysians will be eligible for either cross-border travel scheme. She remarked that Malaysians most affected by the border closures are unlikely to fall within the “essential business” criteria, with most in the lower-income bracket who have had to spend more on expenses to keep their jobs and remain in Singapore. While the ideal situation would be for daily commuting to resume, Ms Arugumugam said, it is not what is being discussed by the authorities. 

Losses incurred on both sides after border closures

Since the implementation of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO) and border closures, the Johor state government has lost more than 20 per cent in revenue. According to Johor Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad, the losses were caused by uncollected taxes and charges as well as a dip in tourism from SIngapore and investment activities.

Likewise, several of Singapore’s industries which rely primarily on Malaysian workers such as the renovation and security industries have been dealt losses due to the border closure. 

Finalisation of Standard Operating Procedures and quarantine requirements

Both countries are currently working towards the targeted implementation date of RGL and PCA – 10 August 2020. Relevant agencies of both Governments are continuing to finalise the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of both schemes. Both Governments have also agreed to publish the requirements, health protocols, and application processes 10 days prior to the implementation date.

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