ICA Officer For 20 Years

When we talk about ICA, the first thing that comes to mind for many Singaporeans is often — “oh, the people who efficiently manage immigration?” This assumption isn’t wrong per se, especially for those who frequently make day trips to Johor Bahru and often spot these ICA officers at the checkpoint. 

While ICA does stand for Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, there’s so much more to their job roles than what we normally see. We spoke to Superintendent Kong Yong Sin, who’s currently on secondment to MHA Policy Development Division, to find out what it means to be an ICA officer for 20 years.

Here’s what it’s like for the 41-year-old, who enjoys what she does at work while balancing life as a wife and mother of three.

Growing up and joining ICA

Yong Sin (4th from left) with her colleagues, showcasing an automated document collection machine at Home Team Festival in 2016
Image courtesy of Yong Sin

Growing up, Yong Sin herself believed that ICA officers were just the people clearing our passports at the checkpoint too. “Back in my time, ICA was not a very well-known organisation, as compared to SPF and SCDF,” she added. 

Yong Sin majored in Marketing in NTU, and initially found her passion in teaching. You might be surprised to hear this, but she was a Chinese teacher at a tuition centre for nearly a year after graduation.

It was then she discovered a job opportunity with ICA back in 2004. 

“The job chose me, through the selection and interview process. At that age, I wasn’t really ambitious or career-minded, so the softer aspects of a job appealed more to me, especially in terms of finding meaning from the work I do. And as the days and years went by, being in ICA has taken root in me.” 

Plus, she now gets the opportunity to mentor young officers in the first year of their careers with ICA — a similar feeling to what she enjoyed as a teacher. “Being able to be there for them, allaying their concerns and sharing the culture of ICA from my lens was very impactful for me.”

Taking on different roles in ICA

Yong Sin (last row, 6th from left) at a work event with her colleagues
Image courtesy of Yong Sin

When she first joined ICA, Yong Sin started where ICA’s bread and butter lies — the checkpoint. More specifically, Tuas Checkpoint, where she was a Senior Executive in Ground Operations. 

Throughout her 20 years at ICA, she was presented with different opportunities that allowed her to grow as an individual — she was in the Corporate Communications Division from 2006 to 2011, Deputy Head (Passports) from 2013 to 2017 and Head (Identity Card) from 2017 to 2020, just to name a few appointments she held in her tour of duty.

As of today, Yong Sin’s focus lies in policy development. “My days at work are generally packed. I juggle various workstreams, which can include reviews of existing policies, designing new policies or managing legislative reviews to augment policies.”  

While her current role is more desk-bound, she revealed that it actually requires just as much teamwork as running an ops outfit. “The excitement takes place mainly in our heads as we work through the policy-making process”, Yong Sin joked. 

Some of Yong Sin’s notable work achievements are the re-inclusion of dialect in birth certificates in August 2022, and allowing the inclusion of names for stillbirths on Commemorative Birth Certificates in October 2023.

Being a woman in uniform

ICA OfficerYong Sin (2nd from left) with her colleagues at Woodlands Train Checkpoint in 2011, supporting the media coverage for the last train plying between Singapore-Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and Malaysia
Image courtesy of Yong Sin

NGL, there are still a lot of misconceptions about females in uniformed forces today, and not just predominantly in the older generation. Yong Sin has heard her fair share of “Huh, you join ICA? Chop passport only ah?” and other insensitive comments such as “How come you don’t study masters and find an office job?” 

But Yong Sin has turned these into motivation instead. “Sometimes in life, you need these counter-forces to give you that positive push, to prove that you made the right choice.”

After hearing about Yong Sin’s achievements, who says women can’t do it too?

While the stereotypes have slowly been debunked over the years, Yong Sin recognises that these stem from misplaced and conservative views of uniformed occupations — “having a role to play in safeguarding the safety and security of our country and loved ones is very fulfilling”.

Are there really differences between males and females in uniform? Yong Sin doesn’t think so. 

“Male or female, we come across different challenges in our life stages. What makes the clock tick is the teamwork, understanding, and appreciation of one another.”

Meeting her husband at work

Yong Sin with her husband, Kelvin Ong, at the beginning of their relationship
Image courtesy of Yong Sin

When Yong Sin first joined ICA and was posted to Tuas Checkpoint, she met her husband, Kelvin Ong, who’s currently in the Intelligence Division. They were Team Leaders of different teams, and would often hang out together with their mutual friends. 

Who would’ve thought that one thing would lead to another, and the pair soon found themselves looking forward to their first date.

Yong Sin shared another fun tidbit — the first date actually ended with them at a police station

“We drove to East Coast Park and walked around. When we came back to the car, the window had been broken and my bag was stolen, so we had to lodge a report at the police station,” Yong Sin recalls, adding that it was a “very memorable date”.

ICA OfficerYong Sin and Kelvin dressing up as Top Gun characters for ICA Appreciation Dinner 2023
Image courtesy of Yong Sin 

We often hear of successful workplace relationship stories, but what’s the reality of dating your colleague? “Working together helps us connect and sustain our relationship in many ways. We have common topics and mutual social circles, meaning we get to rely on each other too.”

Curious, I wondered if Yong Sin has ever reached a point where combining both her personal and professional lives has become intolerable. After all, it’s inevitable for someone like her, who’s working in the same organisation as her husband. 

Surprisingly, she answered without any hesitation — not at all. “Because we know that work takes up a very big part of our lives, and it was work that brought us together. So when we’re at home, talking about work is not taboo. We’re very open about it.” 

The couple even added that attending workshops together feels as if they’re back in school again, enjoying each other’s company as if they were classmates. At a recent ICA event, they even dressed up in similar Top Gun outfits and had a blast with their friends and colleagues.

Juggling work and personal life

ICA OfficerYong Sin with her three sons
Image courtesy of Yong Sin

Now, Yong Sin and Kelvin have three sons together, and enjoy travelling as a family. Yong Sin herself enjoys a variety of hobbies — reading, bingeing on Netflix shows, and cycling. Recently, she also found herself enjoying concerts and musicals, which make her feel rejuvenated and uplifted.

But with how busy her work life is, how does she juggle that with her hobbies, and being there for her husband and children too? 

Luckily, Yong Sin has a lot of flexibility in her work arrangements, such as being able to work from home while in MHA. This way, she’s able to juggle her family commitments and work responsibilities at the same time, and within the same space. 

Of course, nothing comes without sacrifice. Whether it’s waking up a little earlier to complete her exercise regime, or staying up late just to catch up on her fave dramas, Yong Sin reminds us that it’s all about how we use our time. 

To Yong Sin, pursuing her interests is an absolute necessity. “It is a reminder to love and care for yourself amidst the chaos of family and work.” So with ICA’s understanding, she’s thankful that she’s able to find the right balance between work and family, no matter how tough things may be on both ends.

Plans for the future

ICA OfficerYong Sin and her family on a holiday together
Image courtesy of Yong Sin

For the current generation, job hopping is a common trend. So for Yong Sin to stay in ICA for 20 years without considering a career switch? That can be astonishing for many to hear. 

What keeps her going is knowing that she’s touching real lives. Being in ICA means she’s able to interact with people, understand them and help them with their needs. That’s what makes this job so meaningful to her. 

“There’s this saying in Chinese that goes ‘知足常乐’ (zhī zú cháng le), an idiom which translates as ‘being content and happy with what you have’. I feel that when you are satisfied with whatever you are doing, and cherish what you have, then you will always find happiness in whatever you do.”

Being In ICA For Over 20 Years Allowed Yong Sin To Explore Her Interests & Pursue Work-Life Balance

After working in ICA for 20 years, what does ICA mean to Yong Sin? “To be honest, I’ve never actually thought of leaving ICA. It’s a place where it’s not only my comfort zone, but also my second family. I feel like I belong here.”

Through her journey with ICA, Yong Sin is proud of the achievements she has made, and the tight-knit community of her team. We look forward to more milestones for her, both at work and with her family.

ICA Officers Are Able To Manage Their Roles & Pursue Personal Interests

As guardians of Singapore’s borders, ICA officers aim to detect threats, keep Singapore connected to the world through cross border trade and travel, as well as strengthen border security. 

On top of carrying out their duties, these officers are able to enjoy a work-life balance that allows time for personal pursuits. As Yong Sin explained, besides juggling her roles as a mother at home and an officer at work, having personal time is essential for her mental health too. Besides her, there are many other female officers on the ICA team, who are also able to pursue their personal interests alongside their professional commitments.

For those who are interested in rising to the challenge, Yong Sin’s word of advice is to “just go for it”. Perhaps this could be your sign to consider a career in ICA, where you can discover your full potential and achieve rewarding goals for the nation, as part of a supportive team.

Find out more about careers at ICA here!

This post was brought to you by ICA.
Cover: Image courtesy of ICA, image courtesy of Yong Sin.

Watch the full video of Yong Sin’s story below: