Chaos at Causeway

JOHOR BARU (Malaysia) - There was chaos at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint at the Sultan Iskandar Building (SIB) yesterday when the biometric fingerprint scanning system had problems coping with the huge number of tourists in light of the weekend and school holidays.

The security system was implemented just four days ago.

Tourists took at least 90 minutes to wait for Immigration clearance.

The delay had forced many of them to change or scrap their holiday plans.

There was a sea of people at the SIB's arrival hall and immigration clearance was reported to take as long as five minutes for each tourist.

This is five times longer than the Immigration Department's target of one minute per tourist.

A similar situation also occurred at the CIQ checkpoint in the Sultan Abu Bakar Complex (SABC) at the Second Link, with most cars and buses taking about 150 minutes just to reach the complex.

Chiew Kok Leong, 48, who took a bus service from Woodlands, in Singapore, to attend a relative's wedding in Muar, said it took him nearly two hours to have his passport stamped.

"The long delay has upset my schedule for the day. I will be late for the reception."

S. Karasima, 55, who was with a tour group for a one-day visit to Malacca, said the group had to cancel the trip and go on a tour of Johor Baru instead.

"It is unreasonable to make us wait for so long for immigration clearance.

"Do you have any idea how tiring it was to stand for almost two hours just to get through Immigration?"

Checks with local tour guides showed about 60 tour coaches at SIB and 100 at SABC were affected by the delays. The number of tourists involved were 6,400; most of them Singaporeans and Japanese.

The biometric scanning system, introduced on June 1, requires foreigners entering and leaving the country to have their left and right index fingers scanned at entry and exit points.

It is a new security feature aimed at curbing transboundary crimes and terrorism threats.

Previously, tourists only needed to have their passports stamped.

The system has been implemented in 96 entry points in the country.

Malaysia Tour Guides Council president Jimmy Leong said the tourism industry suffered a severe blow as a result of the hiccup, adding that this had left a bad impression on tourists.

He said it was disappointing that the problem occurred during the school holidays, which was the peak season for the tourism industry.

"I will be writing to the Prime Minister's Department and Tourism Ministry to highlight the matter."

Elaborating on the severity of the situation, Leong said it took him three-and-a-half hours to wait for three coaches transporting Singaporean and Japanese tourists to get through Immigration.

"It normally takes about 20 minutes for each coach to pass through clearance at the SIB's CIQ checkpoint. Today, it took about 90 minutes. This excludes the time loss for each coach to reach the complex from the Causeway.

"My Japanese customers are so angry that they blamed me for not informing them about the situation at the checkpoint. They were supposed to reach Malacca by 12.30pm. However, they only managed to have their passports stamped at that time.

"Their one-day Malacca tour was scrapped as a result of the delay."

Checks from other tour guides revealed that many groups from Singapore had cancelled their tours today (Sunday) in view of the anticipated problems at both checkpoints.

Immigration Department director-general Datuk Alias Ahmad urged travellers to be patient with the new security system.

He said travellers took a much longer time than expected to have their passports stamped and fingers scanned as the system was moving towards stabilisation.

"For some people, it takes only a minute. For others, it takes about two to three minutes. We welcome feedback and will improve the system as soon as possible."

Alias urged Singaporean motorists to apply for the Malaysia Automated Clearance System at any Immigration office for faster immigration clearance as the system would do away with the need to have their fingers scanned again after their first visit.