May 12th, 2014

Marriage, children evidence of one’s stake in S’pore

By Vivienne Wee, Research and Advocacy Director, Association of Women for Action and Research

In his commentary “Are you ‘of this place’?” (May 5), Dr Jeremy Lim made the important point that belonging derives from one’s commitment and contributions to the society of which one is a member.

2205859730_29babd985f_zIt is indeed questionable whether possessing academic qualifications, professional credentials and economic assets should be the primary measure of one’s stake in Singapore. Having a stake in a nation means staking something of personal value in a collective enterprise.

In examining how would-be citizens have invested in their dreams of the future, we could ask, as Dr Lim suggests, “upfront for a personal statement, evidence of contribution or commitment to the Singapore community in non-economic ways and even supporting letters from long-standing Singaporeans”.

Marriage to a Singaporean and/or giving birth to Singaporean children should be among the most relevant evidence of personal commitment to Singapore. Yet non-Singaporean spouses of Singaporeans, who are often also parents of Singaporean children, are routinely denied permanent residence and citizenship. This happens particularly when the Singaporean spouse’s income and education are deemed insufficiently attractive.

Low-income Singaporeans deserve an equal right to enjoy a stable, happy family life. They should not be discriminated against when they marry non-Singaporeans.

Most non-Singaporean spouses disadvantaged in this way are women. The Association of Women for Action and Research urges that their commitment and contribution be fully acknowledged through permanent residence and, eventually, citizenship.

The Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus given to some is no substitute for permanent residence and citizenship as a foundation for a stable marriage and family, as they can still be deported and, thus, separated from their children if pass renewals are not approved.

As their immigration position is precarious, they face additional vulnerability to domestic abuse. They may hesitate to take action against violent partners as they need spousal sponsorship to renew their visa and, therefore, continue to have access to their children.

An inclusive nation should provide equal rights to all citizens, not prioritise high-net-worth individuals over others, including high-commitment citizens-to-be who have forged deep ties to this society.

This letter was first published in TODAY on 10 May, 2014.

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