A Straits Times reader posted a letter in the ST forum, about the government restrictions that make it hard for many Singaporeans and their foreign spouses to live in Singapore, with the constant struggle for the access to basic rights like employment, housing and even the right of stay.
The reader, Mr Raymund Koh Joo Guan, wrote that many of his friends who married foreign brides have said they would like to move to their respective spouse’s home country, like Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines or China.
Mr Koh said that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) does not make it easy for foreign spouses to get a pass to live in Singapore. A long list of documents is needed, and the Singaporean and his spouse have to make multiple trips to the ICA building to apply for and renew the pass.
Mr Koh also wrote, “Although Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said that the number of people renouncing Singapore citizenship is small, every Singaporean talent is of importance in its own way. Every individual can contribute to the country.”
Mr Koh had earlier wrote a letter on the same topic to the ST forum in February this year. He wrote:
“It was reported that there were at least 33,793 births last year (“600 more babies for SG50“; Feb 3).
Although this is an increase, the numbers could be higher if the Government did more to aid couples.
The trend of Singaporeans marrying foreign brides continues.
But the authorities certainly do not help couples in which one party is a foreigner.
Couples do not have the certainty to settle down to form strong family bonds if the foreign brides are made to return to their home country every so often, leaving their Singaporean husbands behind.
The Singaporean husbands have to go through a lot of hassle to apply for visa extensions or long-term passes for their foreign wives.
What is the issue behind all these requirements when couples are already married?
They want to settle down and start a family.
Not having a guarantee of being able to live in Singapore is a huge hurdle for many couples.
I am sure birth rates would increase even more if Singaporeans’ foreign spouses are able to get at least permanent resident status after a year of holding a long-term pass.
Better yet, the Government should accord such women PR status when they marry a Singaporean.
I hope the Ministry of Social and Family Development will work closely with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to give couples a chance to form strong family bonds in order to boost Singapore’s dwindling birth rate.”
Interestingly, a spokesperson from ICA responded by writing back to Mr Koh’s letter in February:
“Every application is assessed holistically, based on a range of criteria, including the ability of the Singaporean sponsor to support the family.
Over the years, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has introduced measures such as the Long Term Visit Pass-Plus scheme (LTVP+) and Pre-Marriage Long Term Visit Pass Assessment (PMLA) to better help Singaporean-foreigner couples.
The LTVP+ scheme, introduced in 2012, provides a range of benefits to foreign spouses of Singapore citizens whose marriages have proven stable over time.
LTVP+ holders can enjoy greater certainty of stay here, with longer periods of residency.
ICA will consider factors such as the duration of marriage, whether the couple have children from the marriage, and the ability of the Singaporean sponsor to support the family, when considering whether to grant the foreign spouse the LTVP+.
More recently, in January last year, ICA introduced the PMLA.
The PMLA helps prospective Singaporean-foreigner couples plan better for the future.
It provides greater clarity, prior to marriage, on whether the foreign spouse can qualify for long-term stay in Singapore.
Prospective Singaporean-foreigner couples are strongly encouraged to undergo the PMLA before marriage.”
But despite writing all that hubris, the approval process is simply a black-box operation.
One does not know why an application is rejected and what were the merits and cons to the rejection. Causing mental anguish to families that do not know what is store for them for months or even years.
Just recently, the Minister for Home Affairs clarified in Parliament that having a citizen child would be a ‘plus factor’, but does not automatically qualify one for citizenship or PR status.
Also, even though the spouse is legally married to a Singaporean, he or she, does not immediately enjoy the benefits of subsidised medical consultation or treatment in polyclinics. Singaporean with spouses holding a Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP) or a Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus (LTVP+) cannot buy new Housing Board flats, and this means adds to their cost of living, as they can buy only resale flats.
Lack of protection for foreign spouses
In cases where the mixed citizenships couples already had a flat but the Singaporean spouse passed away, Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong said in Parliament last month, that the non-citizen spouse can retain the flat following the demise of the Singaporean spouse-owner, but only if he/she becomes a Singaporean or permanent resident (PR) within a one-year period, or if he/she includes a Singaporean or PR family member who is at least 21 and satisfies the eligibility rules and conditions to own a flat.
While it sounds all fair and square, but it does not cater to the situation where the foreign spouse is left with a child who is less than 21 years old, with no other relatives present in Singapore, making the remedy infeasible to begin with.
This would seem to suggest that some circumstances could justify requiring a Singapore citizen child to be separated from their mother or to leave the country.
On 18 August, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) wrote about the predicament faced by the foreign wives of lower-income men in Singapore. Even though unions between Singaporeans and foreigners formed 30% of marriages in 2013, many foreign wives struggle with access to basic rights like employment and housing.
AWARE pointed that housing to enable a stable family life should be available to all Singaporeans, not only those with means or married to other Singaporeans.
The non-transparency and uncertainty of the criteria for permanent residence and citizenship also threaten the right to family life for foreign spouses and their citizen children. Children in such families make up 30% of Singaporean babies each year. Yet if the citizen spouse stops sponsoring visa renewals, the foreign spouse may have to choose between leaving her children or taking them out of the country.
AWARE also pointed that as foreign wives largely come from poorer socio-economic backgrounds than their Singaporean husbands, they are likely to be vulnerable to abuse.