October 31st, 2014

Transnational couples need more assurance of stability

By Vivienne Wee (Dr), Research and Advocacy Director, AWARE

We applaud the Government’s intention of promoting greater transparency among transnational couples (“New rules clear air for transnational marriages”; last Saturday).

2205859730_29babd985f_zThese couples can apply for a Letter of Eligibility for a Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP) before marriage, provided they mutually disclose information about their finances, educational backgrounds, previous marriages and past criminal records. This will enable potential spouses to learn more about each other.

However, this still does not give Singaporeans and their foreign spouses sufficient certainty to pursue stable family lives.

Although the Letter of Eligibility is not mandatory, it seems people who are refused one would find it hard to get the LTVP that enables them to live and work in Singapore.

Moreover, even the Letter of Eligibility is no guarantee of an LTVP – the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority website says it is only indicative, not conclusive. This can be problematic as people may rely on getting the LTVP as a basis for proceeding with marriage.

We welcome the other policy change, which enables LTVP holders to be employed without being counted in the foreign worker quota and without having their employers pay the foreign worker levy for them.

This benefits not only LTVP holders and their families, but also employers, who are able to hire them more easily. This removes a major barrier for foreign spouses participating in the community around them.

The Government has acknowledged the need for families with foreign spouses to be sufficiently stable, so they are better able to contribute to Singapore. However, family stability can be attained only when the foreign spouses can stay here for life.

As mere “long-term visitors” with LTVP or even LTVP-Plus, they are allowed to stay with their families for only a few years each time such a stay is approved.

When marriages between Singaporeans and their foreign spouses have lasted for at least three years, or when they have at least one child, there should be a clear and unambiguous route for the foreign spouse to obtain citizenship or, at least, permanent residency.

No child should be placed at risk of being abandoned by a parent, simply because that parent is denied the right to stay here.

This letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 31 October 2014.

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