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Number of foreign wives seeking help increasing in Singapore

People – especially women – from foreign countries who marry Singaporeans often face problems such as spouses’ death, divorce and abuse.

The matter is, even more a challenge for those who marry the Singaporean men with low income.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), which provides a helpline service, legal support, and counseling for women, stated that they have been approached by 61 foreign wives for help last year, up from 28 in 2011.

AWARE also wrote on its website that a Catholic-run group in April 2016 had received 240 calls for help from foreign wives, and helped with 46 cases of them last year, compared with 210 calls and 30 cases in 2011.

Foreign spouses live in Singapore on a temporary visa, like long term visit permits, and these licenses have to be periodically renewed.

As stated in an Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA)’s news, marriage to a Singaporean does not automatically qualify a foreigner for a long-term stay in Singapore.

These temporary permits usually applied, and when expired have to be extended, by the Singaporean partners.

One of the problems often faced by the low-income couples is the need to have a dwelling place, due to restrictions from Housing Development Board (HDB) against foreigners co-owning properties.

Asia One has earlier reported that a Singaporean deliveryman and his pregnant Vietnamese wife has to live in a lorry after applications for a two-room or rental flat failed due to the wife’s nationality and the husband’s income level.

The situation is harder for the foreign spouses when they have Singaporean children; they may face the fate of being separated from their children.

The Minister for Home Affairs recently clarified in Parliament that having a citizen child would be a ‘plus factor’, but does not automatically qualify one for citizenship or PR status in Singapore.

It seems to suggest that some circumstances could justify requiring a Singapore citizen child to be separated from their mother.

The government needs to clarify the circumstances which justify foreign parents to be separated from their child or children.

In the job affairs, the ICA has helped the spouses holding Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP) by issuing Letter of Consent (LOC).

The LOC is meant so they will not be counted against the foreign worker quota of their employers, and their employers are also not required to pay the foreign workers’ levy for them.

However, the matter still depends on the Singaporean partner who held the right to extend the spouse’s renewal permit.

Last but not least, foreign wives of poorer economic strata than their Singaporean husbands are also more vulnerable to abuse. Having to depend on their husbands for residency, citizenship status and the right to work puts them in an unequal position.

AWARE's senior manager, Jolene Tan, said that the problems faced by foreign spouses usually rooted in their uncertain legal status.

"They need a transparent way to transform to permanent residence and eventually citizenship," she said.

ICA has tried to help in this matter by providing greater clarity, before marriage, on whether the foreign spouse can qualify for long term stay in Singapore, based on the circumstances of the couple at the time of application.

The information will help for applying couples facing their marriage, particularly those who may not have had the benefit of a long relationship, to have sufficient relevant information about each other.

ICA has issued a Marriage Preparation Programe (MPP) for Singaporean-foreigner couples, offered at the Registry of Marriages (ROM) as part of the civil marriage registration process, started on 1 December 2014.

However, according to stories that TOC reported earlier, the process of applying for one's foreign wife to be given residency remains a black-box operation as applicants are never told the reason for why their applications are rejected.

AWARE also stated on its website, foreign spouses who need help can call Aware's helpline at 1800-774-5935, or the ACMI's helpline at 9188-9162.