Ms Lee Wei Ting graduated from National University of Singapore (NUS) law school with a second class (upper division) honours degree last year. But she will not be taking the Singapore Bar Examinations.
“Not being able to practise as a lawyer isn’t a big deal to me,” says the recipient of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Uniformed Scholarship.
While becoming a lawyer is still considered prestigious by most and entry into the four-year programme at NUS is highly competitive, the 23-year‑old saw her Bachelor of Laws degree as a means towards a law enforcement career with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).
“The career came first,” she says, adding that she is drawn to law enforcement because she has always been impressed by the work and professionalism of uniformed officers.
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While considering the scholarship after completing her A levels, she was already clear that she wanted a career that would allow her to marry her interests in both legal studies and law enforcement.
At law school, Ms Lee says she had the chance to pick up skills that lawyers need.
“I learnt how to analyse complex situations and come up with the best solutions based on reasoning and critical thinking,” she says.
Besides sharpening her thinking process, Ms Lee found that familiarity with the legal language has been useful for the work she does at the agency.
“It helped me better understand ICA’s enforcement powers and appreciate the situations that they can be applied in,” she says.
From research to reality
Before accepting the MHA Scholarship, Ms Lee explored the different uniformed law enforcement agencies and found that the work at ICA appealed to her the most.
“ICA does interesting things that people would not normally think about because of how smooth the process is at the borders,” she says. “But there is more than meets the eye when it comes to ICA’s work.”
She understands how different from the other Home Team agencies law enforcement is for ICA, whose mission is to secure and safeguard Singapore’s borders yet ensuring the country’s connectivity to the rest of the world.
“We’re not just doing protective security; we’re also ensuring efficient flow of people and goods,” she says. “We cannot let security be compromised for the sake of efficiency.”
In 2020, Ms Lee got her first taste of ICA’s “interesting” duties during her one-month internship while still an undergraduate. She assisted in the review of the officer training programme through research and development of outreach materials.
Now as a full-time ICA officer, her job scope extends beyond security at physical checkpoints. She also has to learn about “community safety, crowd management and security practices in the private sectors”, all of which are relevant to what the agency does.
Even at the checkpoints, ICA officers must be familiar with a wide range of regulatory issues, ranging from laws on customs to food safety and medication permits, which are constantly revised.
“ICA’s job really goes beyond what people commonly associate with the ‘usual’ immigration and registration matters,” she says.
“To better carry out our duties, ICA officers also need to keep current with what is happening within Singapore and around the world.”
Embracing new challenges
Transiting from university to operations work at ICA, Ms Lee’s aim is to meet the expectations of the agency as well as the public it serves.
To prepare her for her first role as a Team Leader at Woodlands Command, she had to undergo a six-month ICA Basic Course (Inspector) at the Home Team Academy.
Once in the field, she will be required to lead and make real-time decisions in the face of members of the public – quite unlike the hypothetical scenarios played out in a classroom setting.
“As someone who is coming in as a new Team Leader, I will need to make an effort to learn from everyone how things work, so I can perform to the standards required,” she says.
Ms Lee will be responsible for a group of up to 20 front-line officers while managing the day-to-day operations at the checkpoint that include profiling duties and conducting in-depth investigations into open cases.
ICA officers like Ms Lee also get to experience different deployments across both staff and ground postings. As part of her four-year bond, she will be rotated to a new position two years after her first deployment.
Pointing to the agency’s “very big ecosystem”, she envisions that her future with the agency will be filled with plenty of learning experiences as she seizes various opportunities to take on new responsibilities.
Pushing her personal limits
As Ms Lee takes her first steps as a full-fledged inspector in charge of a team, she can already say that ICA has helped her achieve many things she did not believe she was capable of.
These include handling revolvers and going through a leadership camp that honed her decisiveness, mental agility and resilience.
“I stepped out of my comfort zone,” she says, comparing with her younger self in junior college and university.
Showing the gutsiness that has pushed her to take on challenges, she says: “I mean, (my friends and peers) are not practising to handle firearms and shooting a gun. I am.”
ICA has also shown her that “the playing field is equal”. She cites the example of trainees having to go through an intensive five-day firearms training, regardless of gender and familiarity. She also highlights the growing number of women holding leadership positions in the uniformed services.
Ms Lee revels in the prospect of continuous learning and tackling new experiences at ICA.
“While my peers from NUS are looking at different areas of law, I am learning about the relevant laws that ICA will be enforcing,” she says.
Speaking to the 18-year-olds who are now mulling over their future, especially young women, Ms Lee has only one piece of advice.
“Go for it. Whatever decisions you choose to make today will blaze a trail for others in the future.”
|About the Ministry of Home Affairs Uniformed Scholarship|
Depending on your interests and aspirations, this scholarship will allow you to kick-start your leadership journey as a uniformed officer in one of these five Home Team departments, namely Singapore Police Force, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, Singapore Prison Service and Central Narcotics Bureau, or as a paramedic with the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
This article is brought to you by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.