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AWARE urges equality and inclusion for foreign wives on this year’s International Migrants Day

In view of International Migrants Day on 18 December, AWARE has released a policy brief highlighting key laws and policies that discriminate against the foreign spouses of Singapore citizens, with particular impact on the foreign wives of citizen men.

Entitled ‘Home, truly: respect the rights of foreign wives’, the policy brief makes five key calls to ensure the inclusive and equitable treatment of foreign spouses of Singapore citizens:

  1. Grant the LTVP+ to all spouses.
  2. Grant the right to work to all spouses.
  3. Grant healthcare subsidies to all spouses (currently available only to LTVP+ holders).
  4. Grant PR to all spouses: who have been on the LTVP+ for three years;who have citizen children, or whose spouse dies, whichever is soonest. Citizenship should be available to those foreign spouses who have held PR for a clearly defined and transparently published period of time.
  5. Ease housing access through clear, timed routes to PR (see above), and allow citizens married to LTVP+ holders to access public rental housing.

“Singapore declares itself pro-family and our leaders emphasize the need for citizen-migrant integration,” said Jolene Tan, Head of Advocacy & Research at AWARE.

“Yet our policies make it hard for poorer transnational families - often citizen husband-foreigner wife couples - to fulfill basic needs like stable residence, employment and housing,” Ms Tan said.

The policy brief is critical of the idea that the Pre-Marriage LTVP Assessment, introduced in late 2014, is an adequate response to the difficulties faced by families.

“What does the state expect couples who are told they won’t get the LTVP to do?” asked Jolene Tan. “The right to family life includes the right to freely choose a spouse, regardless of nationality or wealth. We can’t justify denying people stable family lives just by telling them about it in advance. Migration policy should prioritise family ties over economic utility.”

AWARE stated, over the past two years, AWARE's Support Services Helpline received 220 calls from foreign wives contemplating or going through divorce. More than a quarter (26 percent) were facing immigration issues while 21 percent were facing domestic violence. A large proportion (87 percent) were seeking legal advice when they called.

“Our Helpline experience suggests that immigration status is a pressing issue,” said Ms Tan, “This is further complicated in situations of domestic violence. Most of the callers need legal advice, which is not easily accessible.”

Throughout human history, migration has been a courageous expression of an individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life. Today, globalization, together with advances in communications and transportation, has greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places.

Taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, on 4 December 2000 the General Assembly of United Nations appointed 18 December as International Migrants Day.

On 18 December 1990, the General Assembly adopted the international convention on the protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families.

Last year on the International Migrants Day, Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General said in his message, “2015 will be remembered as a year of human suffering and migrant tragedies.  Over the past 12 months, more than 5,000 women, men and children lost their lives in search of protection and a better life.  Tens of thousands more have been exploited and abused by human traffickers.  And millions have been made into scapegoats and become the targets of xenophobic policies and alarmist rhetoric.”

“But 2015 was also a year in which the global community underscored the important contribution of migrants to sustainable development.  With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, world leaders vowed to protect the labor rights of migrant workers, combat transnational criminal human trafficking networks, and promote well-regulated migration and mobility,” he said.

For those who need assistance, AWARE helpline is  1800 777 5555.