Self-service trial for Singapore e-passports at Aussie airports

It is expected to cut waiting time by 15 to 20 minutes at Australia's eight major airports, in Sydney (above), Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin.

SINGAPORE - It should now be a breeze for Singaporeans with electronic passports to enter Australia through its major airports without having to stand in queues to have their passports stamped.

It comes after Australia on Wednesday extended a trial to allow Singaporean travellers to use its self-service immigration kiosks.

This facility, called SmartGate, works in a way similar to the system used at Singapore's checkpoints where passports and thumbprints are scanned. But instead of thumbprints, SmartGate users are recognised by their facial features.

It is expected to cut waiting time by 15 to 20 minutes at Australia's eight major airports, in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin.

The trial, launched by Australia's Customs and Border Protection, is extended to Singaporean e-passport holders aged 16 and above.

The extension was announced on Wednesday at the Australian High Commission on Napier Road.

Singapore was chosen as the first country in Asia to use this option in Australia because of its high numbers of visitors, said Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb at the event.

Last year, Australia received more visitors from Singapore than any other South-east Asian country. They numbered 385,300, an increase of 12.1 per cent compared to 2012.

SmartGate is currently available to citizens of Australia, New Zealand and Britain on a permanent basis. E-passport holders from the United States and Switzerland also enjoy the use of the system in Australia under similar trial arrangements.

Trials have been planned for other countries over the next 12 months, with priority being given to those with the most regular visitors to Australia.

Australia's Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash said in a statement: "As more travellers use SmartGate, Customs and Border Protection officers can focus their attention on people who pose a risk to the border, while legitimate, law-abiding travellers can pass through with ease."

Private teacher Sophia Goh, 23, who is flying to Gold Coast next week for a two-week holiday, said she is keen to try the new system. She said: "The queues are usually unpredictable and I get quite frustrated because there's a set time to catch the airport buses.

"The self-service counters should definitely cut waiting time."

mellinjm@sph.com.sg

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.