Bhopinder Singh: A capable, resourceful Singapore officer

During SARS outbreak, the operations director at Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) and his team worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of all Singaporeans

| Singapore | 11 August 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Bhopinder Singh with his team from Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA)
Bhopinder Singh with his team from Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) – PHOTO / BOOK

As Singaporeans go about their daily lives, they find comfort that their homes are kept safe by members of the Home Team. Part of this protection includes the tireless work done by the unsung heroes of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) who keep our borders safe.

ICA’s vision is to ‘Inspire Confidence in All’. Its mission is to ensure that the movement of people, goods and conveyances though its checkpoints is legitimate and lawful and to administer and uphold its laws on immigration, citizenship and national registration fairly and effectively.

The ICA has boasted of many bright, capable and outstanding officers in the course of its history. One such officer is Mr Bhopinder Singh, who is ICA’s current Director of Operations.

Bhopinder was born in Singapore in 1954. Following his graduation from the then-University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Sociology, he began his career in the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1982. He started off with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) where he served for 18 years until he was appointed Assistant Director of Operations (Operations Management) at the police headquarters in 2000. During his tenure there, he was responsible for coordinating the island-wide police operations against illegal immigrants and criminal syndicates. It was not an easy task as he had to ensure proper and adequate measures were in place so that necessary action could be taken, depending on the situation.

In 2003, Singapore Immigration & Registration and the checkpoints operations of Customs & Excise Department merged to form the ICA. After serving as Assistant Director of Operations in the SPF, Bhopinder moved to the newly established ICA where he was appointed Deputy Director (Operations). With his sharp analytical skills, coupled with his deep sense of responsibility, Bhopinder rose to the rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner as well as Director (Operations) of the ICA. His position as Director of Operations increased his responsibilities significantly as he had to supervise the daily operations of the various departments to ensure that they were efficient while meeting their key performance indicators. He stated: “There was tremendous pressure on the job. We had to consistently deliver.”

However, with his affable personality as well as his resourcefulness and dedication, Bhopinder and his team of dedicated ICA officers took it in their stride to confront and successfully overcome all challenges.

Bhopinder is a leader who firmly believes that to get the best from his officers, he has to set an example by walking the talk and being at the frontlines. It is not uncommon for one to see Bhopinder interacting with his team of officers and keeping an eye out for areas where improvements can be made. He encourages officers to always stay ahead and pre-empt issues through the use of the latest technology and methods available to the ICA as well as trusting their instincts when it comes to making decisions.


Bhopinder’s leadership style, to be among his officers instead of simply directing them, ensured that his officers overcame one of Singapore’s most challenging moments in the ICA history.

In February 2003, Singapore was faced with the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A total of 238 people were infected by the disease which claimed the lives of 33 individuals in Singapore. Many of these casualties were healthcare providers and other frontline staff who had come into direct contact with those infected by the disease.

As a regional hub and a responsible member of the international community, Singapore had to put in place effective measures to isolate and curb any uncontrolled spread of SARS. This meant that the ICA had a key role in putting into place measures to manage the entry of infected persons in Singapore and to prevent the spread of the virus. Bhopinder was a member of the Whole-of-Government Integrated Risk Management put into place to fight SARS. His task was to lead the planning and preparation of all needed measures to be carried out at all checkpoints.

The challenges faced by Bhopinder and his team were extreme and varied. Singapore’s globalised status meant it was a very popular holiday and business destination. It was critical that Singapore had to remain open to welcome visitors and businessmen to her shores while ensuring that the outbreak was controlled.

The task was a tall order, but with the able guidance of Bhopinder, the ICA teams were able to implement the most efficient methods to ensure that the SARS outbreak was monitored. This also prevented more cases from entering Singapore and ensured that there were no infected patients leaving the country, thereby controlling the spread of the virus to other countries.

Bhopinder’s planning and execution highlighted his capabilities and resourcefulness in not only formulating ICA’s crisis management plans, but also in enhancing its level of emergency response and preparedness. His stellar leadership was also a much-needed morale boost for a team which was fearful that it could become infected as well since it was at the frontlines. Looking back at the incident, Bhopinder thoughtfully shared, “The technical and operational know-how in managing the crisis was important. However, the personal experiences and shared sentiments have remained deeply etched over the years since SARS.”

“I have known Bhopinder for more than 30 years. We were university classmates and have been close friends since then. Bhopinder’s soft-spoken and unassuming manner has enabled him to negotiate challenges both in his career and personal life. He has excelled in his job and his current position as Director of Operations at ICA is a recognition of his dedication and professionalism in the service.
In his personal life, he is a loving husband, a caring parent and a filial son to his elderly parents. He has made the right decisions in life because he has a strong moral compass and, more importantly, is supported by a wonderful and loving wife.”
Mr R Raj Kumar Director, Public Affairs Asia-Europe Foundation

With 33 years of experience, Bhopinder’s span of leadership and area of responsibilities now covers the development of plans, policies, strategies and procedures to deal with all operational matters in the ICA. He oversees the Operations Division, which guides ICA’s frontline units on matters pertaining to checkpoint operations, investigation and repatriation of immigration offenders. In spite of his busy schedule, Bhopinder also makes service a priority. As such, he has been part of the Sikh Advisory Board since 2011 and actively contributes to its role as an advisor to the Singapore government on matters concerning Sikhism, as well as on the customs and general welfare of the Sikh community.

As he completes his service to the nation, it is Bhopinder’s fervent hope that the younger generations  Singaporeans will augment and improve on the foundation already set in place by members of his generation of ICA officers in the areas of border security. Through avid societal involvement and a general sense of community pride, the younger generation of ICA officers will be able to spearhead newer initiatives aimed at further strengthening Singapore’s security landscape that is continuously evolving.

The ICA will continue to face new challenges in the context of Singapore’s position as a global and cosmopolitan island state. It has been successful in meeting these challenges in the last 50 years, thanks to the officers at the checkpoints. Singaporeans have been able to take comfort and will continue to do so, knowing that our borders are being protected by brave men and women, led by inspiring and capable leaders like Bhopinder.


[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]


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