November 27th, 2011

Parliament Primer: The foreign factor

The problem of human trafficking – including sex trafficking – and the rights of foreign women married to Singaporean husbands were discussed during the Nov 21 to 22 sitting of Parliament. The following is a summary of the key points.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

In response to a question by Member of Parliament (MP) Christopher de Souza, Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran – also Minister for Prime Minister’s Office – provided an update on the National Plan Of Action Against Sex And Labour Trafficking:

Trafficking in persons (TIP) is a significant trans-national crime. Singapore is an attractive hub of economic activity with high people flows, and would be seen as an attractive destination country by human trafficking syndicates.

Singapore formed the Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP in 2010. The Taskforce aims to identify and implement Whole-of-Government strategies to combat TIP more effectively, both locally and internationally.

The Taskforce is currently developing the National Plan Of Action, which is expected to be ready by mid-2012. This plan will detail strategies to reduce the incidence of human trafficking in Singapore, minimise opportunities available for traffickers to exploit others and heighten our response to trafficking cases.

This strategy will have four key thrusts:

  • Prevention of the crime
  • Prosecution of offenders
  • Protection of victims
  • Partnerships with other countries, embassies, NGOs and the private sector

Prevention

  • Strict border enforcement, thorough immigration checks, proactive enforcement and public education.
  • Police and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) conduct frequent operations to identify victims and take traffickers to task.
  • Successfully prosecuted cases are publicised in order to deter potential perpetrators.
  • Ensuring workers in Singapore are aware of their rights and the obligations of their employers. This is done through the issuance of in-principle approval letters prior to their arrival in Singapore, and orientation and various outreach education programmes while they are in Singapore.

Prosecution

  • Human traffickers are firmly dealt with under Singapore laws. Police and MOM will continue to work with the Attorney-General’s Chambers to press for deterrent sentences.
  • The Taskforce is examining whether new legislation is required to enhance our ability to fight human trafficking. They will consider whether enhancements to enforcement powers, increased victim care provisions and harsher sentences are needed.

Protection

  • MCYS and MOM fund shelters and dormitories that offer protection, including accommodation, medical care, counselling and translation services. The Taskforce is looking at ways to improve the victim care and support programmes.

Partnerships

  • The Taskforce will continue to work with other countries, foreign embassies and partners, such as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), to ensure victims are identified promptly and human traffickers are pursued even across borders and legal jurisdictions.
  • Beyond operational issues, the Taskforce will work with our partners to explore proactive upstream measures to prevent exploitation, even in source countries.

Read the full speech here.

FOREIGN WIVES

In response to questions submitted by MPs Fatimah Lateef and Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean – also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs – made the following written replies:

Marriage to a Singapore citizen does not mean that a foreign spouse will get Permanent Residence (PR) or Singapore Citizenship (SC). We look at several factors in deciding the grant of PR or Singapore citizenship to foreign spouses. These include the financial ability of the SC spouse to support the foreign spouse, duration of marriage and length of stay in Singapore.

Foreign spouses who are not granted PR will generally be granted a Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP) for them to remain in Singapore. The foreign spouse is allowed to seek employment while on the LTVP.

MHA is currently studying how we can further help Singaporean families with foreign spouses.

For foreign wives who are widowed or divorced and have sole custody of young Singaporean children, ICA would generally facilitate their continued stay in Singapore through a renewable LTVP. This would enable them to care for and raise their Singaporean children here.

Help is extended to those who face financial hardship. The Singaporean children receive financial assistance from the Ministry of Education and other agencies for their school fees, textbooks and other needs. The family may also be referred to a Family Service Centre which will help them adjust to their new circumstances and help them get back on their feet.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of Singaporeans who applied for Long-Term Visit Passes (LTVP) and Permanent Residence (PR) for their foreign spouses each year averaged 12,100 and 8,700 respectively. Over the same period, an average of 10,300 and 4,600 foreign spouses of Singaporeans were granted LTVP and PR respectively each year. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority is unable to further breakdown the data by whether the applicants had locally born children at the time of application. The majority of these foreign spouses granted LTVP or PR are from South East Asia.

Read the submitted questions and replies in full here and here.

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