Monday, March 5, 2012

Foreign Spouse

I am glad that the Government has answered the call of help from many Singaporeans who have married non-Singaporeans, who want the chance to start a family in Singapore.   See my speech in Parliament urging the Goverment to help them.

In 2010, there were a total of 24,363 marriages. Of these, 6,176 were between a citizen and a non-resident. This represents over a quarter of all marriages in Singapore. In most cases, the couple would naturally expect that the foreign spouse would be allowed to live in Singapore, and later, start a family here. But it does not always work out that way.
What happens in most cases is that the foreign spouse would be issued a social visit pass which can range from 30 days to a year. Some are even required to leave Singapore before their passes are renewed, or without assurance that it will be. Their applications for Permanent Residence will take a few years to be approved, if at all.

It is not a satisfactory situation. The problems are compounded because many of these marriages involve Singaporean men and women with low incomes. The new couple are uncertain about their future. Because ICA, for good reasons do not reveal its criteria for giving a visit pass or PR, the couple is never certain if or when it will be granted. While foreign spouses can work on a long-term visit pass, they find it difficult to be employed because of their uncertain status. When the spouse is asked to leave Singapore and return to renew their passes, it adds to the family’s expenses. The couple cannot buy a new flat from HDB because at least two people in the family nucleus must be citizens or permanent residents to qualify. As it will now take the foreign spouse longer to obtain PR, the situation will remain difficult for some time. If the foreign spouse is a lady, she will not enjoy subsidised medical care, and so it will be more expensive to plan and start a family.

Taken collectively, these factors create an imposing obstacle against such couples marrying, settling down and starting a family in Singapore. If we are encouraging Singaporeans to get married and have children, why make it difficult for them simply because they choose to marry a non-Singaporean? Foreign spouses belong to a very different category from the foreign workers the Government is trying to reduce our dependence on. In fact, they are quite the opposite because they are here not for commercial reasons and for the long term. They are also part of a national agenda we want to advance. We want more Singaporeans to marry and have children and deepen their roots in Singapore. The old norms are changing. More are marrying out of race, religion and nationalities. Singaporeans who marry foreigners have the same hopes and dreams as other Singaporeans. The Government should help them make this dream come true, particularly those with low incomes and who likely have more limited options. We also want to make it easier for Singaporeans who have married foreigners and living abroad to come home. It is in keeping with the “inclusive” theme of the Budget.

What are the reasons for our caution? Is it the fear of marriages of convenience? If so, then this must be the minority of marriages, and even if not, can surely be addressed differently. The approach appears to be to flush out marriages of convenience by making it as inconvenient as possible for Singaporeans with foreign spouses. Besides, putting the spouse on a renewable social visit pass does would really deter sham marriages.

I hope the Government will do something to help. I believe it can be done while addressing its concerns.

I suggest that instead of issuing social visit passes, we institute a more permanent pass for foreign spouses.
For convenience, I shall refer to this as a Marriage Pass (not a Pass or Marriage). Under a Marriage Pass, the foreign spouse should be allowed to live and work in Singapore so long as the couple remain married. The Marriage Pass should also allow the couple to purchase a new HDB flat, and entitle the spouse to subsidised medical care.

There are a number of advantages. It gives certainty to the couple. It makes it easier for them to own a home and start a family. And if administered properly, it will also enable the Government to grant fewer PR or citizenship and only to very deserving cases as the Marriage Pass is a viable alternative to foreign spouses in a genuine marriage.
The concerns about sham marriages may in fact be reduced as the spouse’s right to remain in Singapore will depend on the continuity of the marriage, and getting a PR is less assured.
As a check against abuse, there could be various conditions placed on the Marriage Pass. For example, it could be mandatory that children born under the marriage would have to apply to become Singapore citizens. Also, where the couple have purchased a HDB flat, they could be made to disgorge the profits from the sale should the Marriage Pass be terminated, and the flat sold, within a certain time period from the sale.
I hope the Government will consider the suggestion. If it is not viable, I hope the Government will share if it intends to make it easier for Singaporeans to marry foreigners and settle down in Singapore.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr. Kumar,

    By reading your post I can see that you know a lot about the issues that we are facing and I appreciate that you spoke up for us, thanks.