Monday 27 October 2014

New rules clear air for transnational marriages

Easier for foreign spouses to work here; sharper insights for couples
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2014

From 1 January 2015, Singaporeans who want to marry a foreigner have a new option that can speed up their application for the spouse to live here, by as much as five months.

The spouses will also find it easier to work in Singapore as the new rules would no longer classify them as foreign workers, subject to quotas and levies.

The new measures may go some way towards easing the labour crunch while removing much of the uncertainty that unions between Singaporeans and foreigners currently involve.

The couple will have a clearer idea of what they are getting into and learn much more about the backgrounds of their prospective spouses.

They can apply for a Letter of Eligibility from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) before they tie the knot.

This option is to help couples be fully aware of their partners' backgrounds, said the ICA, as the application requires both sides to give such information as details of past marriages, the children from these marriages, their educational and employment backgrounds and criminal records, if any. Each will get a copy of their own and their partner's completed forms.

The new move, announced by the ICA yesterday, is part of a series of policy changes to lend support to the growing number of Singaporeans marrying foreigners. Three in 10 marriages nowadays involve such transnational couples, compared to two in 10 in 2003.

With the Letter of Eligibility, the couple need to wait six weeks, at most, for a Long-Term Visit Pass, compared to a maximum of six months for couples who choose to apply for the pass after they marry.

The Letter of Eligibility is valid for only one year, which means the couple must marry within this period.

These spouses on a Long-Term Visit Pass will get a Letter of Consent from the Ministry of Manpower when they get hired, waiving their employers from treating them as foreign workers. This means they will not fall under the increasingly tight foreign worker quota and the employers hiring them no longer have to pay a foreign worker levy, which can be as high as $1,050 in the construction sector.

The moves come four days after Monday's announcement that the Ministry of Social and Family Development will start two new marriage programmes to give better support to transnational couples.

The pre- and post-marriage programmes, starting from Dec 1, will help these couples deal with issues unique to such marriages.

The ministry said yesterday that its Marriage Preparation Programme is a 21/2-hour session touching on cultural differences and available at the Registry of Marriages near Fort Canning Park.

Those who are married will be encouraged to attend the Marriage Support Programme, an eight-hour course that will teach foreign spouses conversational English and tell them where they can seek community support. It will be rolled out to Family Service Centres and community clubs across the island.

Marriage counsellors welcomed the ICA announcement, saying the cases they see often revolve round problems arising from the spouses not having a full picture of their partners' backgrounds and Singapore's immigration laws.

New moves to smooth way for transnational marriages here
By Laura Elizabeth Philomin, TODAY, 25 Oct 2014

In light of the rising number of marriages between Singaporeans and foreigners here, the authorities yesterday announced new measures from January to allow foreign spouses to start the process of applying for a Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP) earlier.

The changes will also make it easier for them to find jobs after they get hitched to Singaporeans by not subjecting them to a company’s foreign worker quota or levy.

The move came on the heels of Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing’s announcement on Monday that his ministry would launch new marriage preparation and support programmes for transnational couples.

The number of transnational marriages has grown steadily in the past 10 years, the National Population and Talent Division figures showed. Last year, there were 21,842 marriages registered here involving at least one Singapore citizen. Of these, about 30 per cent — or 6,540 — were between a Singaporean and a foreigner, while the remaining marriages were between two Singaporeans, or between a Singaporean and a permanent resident. In 2003, about 23 per cent — or 4,566 — of 19,458 marriages involving at least one Singapore citizen were transnational.

About eight in 10 transnational marriages were between Singaporean grooms and non-resident brides.

Currently, transnational couples can apply for an LTVP for the foreign spouses only after marriage and have to wait for a few months for the in-principle approval if they are successful. An LTVP allows foreign spouses to stay in Singapore for up to one year before a renewal is needed.

Under the changes, Singaporeans and their would-be foreign spouses can jointly submit a letter of eligibility for an LTVP before marriage. The application process requires both sides to furnish information on family, education and financial backgrounds as well as any criminal records and previous marriages.

It will take up to four weeks for the letter to be processed. After a couple obtains the letter, which will be valid for a year, they can use it to support their application for an LTVP after they tie the knot.

Approval via this application route could be granted within six weeks, instead of six months or more for couples who apply after marriage without the supporting letter.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said the change aims to provide greater clarity, before marriage, on whether a foreign spouse can qualify for long-term stay in Singapore, based on the circumstances of the couple at the time of application. The full disclosure by both husband and wife in the joint application will help them get sufficient pertinent information about each other before marriage, it added.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will also issue a letter of consent to foreign spouses with an LTVP when they secure employment. This means they will not be counted against the foreign worker quota of their companies and employers will not be required to pay the foreign worker levy for them.

ICA statistics showed the authority processed an average of 14,600 LTVP applications a year for the past five years. Of these, about 85 per cent were approved.

Sociologists whom TODAY spoke to welcomed the initiatives, which they felt would reduce uncertainties for transnational couples and help start their marriages on the right foot.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Paulin Straughan said: “There is nothing worse than the uncertainty of whether you can stay together in the same country ... It’s better than now when after they get married, they realise the foreign spouse cannot stay, then all kinds of complications set in.”

NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser said improving economic opportunities for foreign wives or husbands will help them contribute to the household income and reduce their dependence on their Singaporean spouses.

Agreeing, Dr Straughan said: “(For) somebody who is married to a Singaporean with genuine intentions of setting up a home and building a family here, giving them equal opportunities at the workplace is an excellent start.”

Dr Tan described the letter of eligibility for an LTVP as a “filtering process” that would screen out those who are unlikely to qualify for long-term stay — as well as act as a check against marriages of convenience.

“Now at least ... there’s one more rung of safeguard,” he said. “But of course, as with many things, I don’t think there’s any foolproof method.”

The ICA and the Ministry of Social and Family Development reiterated in a joint press release that marriage to a Singaporean did not automatically qualify a foreigner for long-term stay in Singapore.

They said: “All applications will be assessed on a set of prevailing criteria, including the ability of the Singaporean sponsor to support and look after the family. Every application is assessed carefully and holistically, based on its own merits.”

Last year, 124 people were convicted of marriage of convenience — under a specific provision introduced in August 2012 to criminalise sham marriages — while another 160 were convicted for making false statements in obtaining immigration facilities.

No sidelining of transnational marriages
Editorial, The Straits Times, 1 Nov 2014

AS TRANSNATIONAL unions step out of the shadows, more governments are having to address the import of the changes these can trigger across a spectrum of social spaces. In Singapore, it is the sheer magnitude of the demographic shift that is taking place that makes it imperative that policies relating to transnational pairings become more transparent, proactive and judiciously supportive.

Three in 10 marriages involve a Singaporean and a foreigner, which represents a sharp rise in the figure a decade ago. What is also arresting is the growing proportion of babies born to Singaporean parents and their foreign spouses - now forming a quarter. Against this, only half of the babies born here have parents who are both Singapore citizens. A new type of family is clearly in the making with broad implications for social life, the labour market and politics. Hence, notwithstanding the baleful overhang of anti-foreigner sentiments, policy gears had to be shifted by the Government.

As it is a stable family that is the pivot for greater participation of transnational couples in society, the emphasis is correctly placed on ways to ensure that all key factors are made plain before the knot is tied. If the central relationship is fraught with difficulties - arising, for example, from hypogamous tensions - families will be put at risk.

Implicit in the support for such families are paradoxical objectives of both strengthening ties to the nation while allowing the creation of networks across borders. The "Being Singaporean" project, such as it is, can take on an added sense of purpose in seeking to draw more transnational families into the fold. Meanwhile, links that foreign spouses have with families and friends abroad can be tapped for other purposes as well, especially useful for small-time entrepreneurs who lack access to regional networks under the aegis of government agencies or business federations.

The inclusiveness effort has to go beyond the state as transnational marriages have a national context as much as these are rooted in individual and personal situations. Aspects of a sense of belonging and loyalty to the nation might assume greater significance if couples feel torn between two shores. And issues of mobility, economic opportunity and social capital can take on a different hue in such families, particularly if they are afflicted by the loss of a Singaporean breadwinner.

If fully embraced, such families can indeed contribute to the "Singaporean core", too, and help make up for the baby deficit that is likely to stay with the Republic in the years to come, even as it plods inexorably towards becoming a super-aged nation.

More Viet women's marriages annulled
Singapore men tell lawyers wives refuse sex unless they are paid or can get PR
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 2 Nov 2014

A growing number of marriages between Singaporean men and Vietnamese women are ending speedily in annulment, lawyers say.

Some men claim their wives ran away just days after the wedding, before consummating the marriage.

Many have told lawyers their brides refuse to have sex, demanded payment for it, or said sex would have to wait until after the women obtain permanent residence here.

One man saw a lawyer to dissolve his marriage after his bride asked for $80 to have sex the first time.

Most men feel the women just want to work here, and are not interested in the marriage.

Some annulments are initiated by the Vietnamese women too, also on the grounds of non-consummation of the marriage.

The Sunday Times checked with 10 lawyers who handle family matters. Most have seen a sharp rise in the number of annulments involving Vietnamese women in recent years.

They also said that over the past few years, the number of annulments involving Vietnamese women far outnumbered cases where the women were of other nationalities, such as those from China, Myanmar and Thailand.

There is no breakdown by nationality in publicly available data on annulments.

The issue of Vietnamese women and their short-lived marriages has been reported in Vietnam itself. In August, Tuoi Tre newspaper had a report headlined "When foreign husbands fall victim to Vietnamese brides".

It said that some Vietnamese sought foreign husbands in countries such as China and South Korea, and would walk out when they were not happy and look for another foreign husband.

The report said these women wanted foreign husbands "merely for money" and some had been married three times in short order.

In Singapore, lawyer Gloria James-Civetta, who handles a few such cases a month - double what she used to see - told The Sunday Times: "I feel that some of these women are using marriage to get into Singapore, to either look for a better match (than the man they married) or to find work here.

"It's very common for the men to tell me that their Vietnamese wives do not want to have sex with them until they get permanent residency."

A blue-collar man in his 30s told her he had to wait for sex while he applied for permanent residency for his Vietnamese wife. When the application was rejected and his bride refused to consummate the marriage for a few months, he decided to annul the union.

Other lawyers have dealt with Vietnamese women seeking annulments. The women usually turn up with new Singaporean boyfriends who pay their legal fees.

Lawyer Beatrice Yeo said: "These women are young, pretty and trendy, with many carrying Chanel or Louis Vuitton bags. They claim their husbands did not want to touch them or have sex.

"We can only warn them not to lie. Beyond that, we really don't know if they had sex with their husbands."

Her firm has seen a surge in such cases in the past year and she now handles five to six annulments a month involving a Vietnamese wife.

Lawyers also suspect that some marriages could be shams, with the women paying the men to marry them in order to stay here for work, usually in the vice trade.

Lawyers said the unions run into trouble swiftly, with many men - usually blue-collar workers in their 30s to 50s - seeking legal help barely months into the marriage.

Some of the couples were introduced by friends or marriage brokers, while others met online. Most married after just a few meetings or a few months.

Some men tell the lawyers they were shocked to find their runaway brides working in the sex trade.

Ms Yeo had a client, a professional in his 30s, whose marriage unravelled within weeks. His attractive Vietnamese bride, in her 20s, would not return home for days on end and he did not know what she was up to. When he found her working as a masseuse, he annulled the marriage.

Ms Yeo feels the authorities should look into the issue. "Some foreigners may be making use of annulment as a quick way to get out of their marriage if they feel they cannot get any benefits from it," she said.


Divorced with a teenage daughter, Peter (not his real name) knew the Vietnamese woman he was interested in had a past. Her marriage to a Singaporean had been annulled, and she was working illegally as a bar hostess.

Still, Peter married her last year. But within six months, the marriage was over.

The salesman, 36, had wanted his wife, eight years younger, to stop working and seeing other men. She refused. She could easily earn $5,000 or more a month if she slept with her bar clients. Or half that, if she just drank with them and kept them company, Peter said. He met her through friends and they married after a year-long courtship. "Love is blind. I didn't mind her past as long as she stopped working as a hostess and stopped seeing other men," he said. "But she kept lying to me. I was willing to try to patch things up but she didn't care about me."

Her demands for money to support her family in Vietnam was another source of conflict, although he said he gave her up to $2,000 a month to send home. "If you want to marry a Vietnamese, you have to accept that you have to support her entire family, even aunties and uncles, back home," he said.

Fed up with her incessant lies, Peter decided to annul the marriage earlier this year. She moved out. She contacted him only once since then, to ask for help to apply for a work permit so she could stay in Singapore.

"Her main motive is to work in Singapore and support her family back home," he said.

Rules to ensure couples come clean before getting hitched
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 2 Nov 2014

New initiatives aimed at transnational marriages may help couples learn the truth about each other early.

Under changes that take effect in January next year, couples can apply for a long-term visit pass for the foreigner to stay in Singapore before registering the marriage, instead of after marriage as is the practice now.

Both partners must provide key information about themselves, such as income, marital history, number of children from previous marriages, as well as any criminal or bankruptcy records. Each will be shown the other's details.

This is to help couples be more aware of their partner's backgrounds before they marry.

Social workers say many transnational couples marry after brief courtships of between just a few meetings and a few months, and many foreign wives are ignorant about their husbands' income.

When they discover that the men are struggling to make ends meet, money often becomes a source of tension.

Social worker Lee Yean Wun said: "One of the women's key reasons for marrying a foreigner is for a better life and to help their families back home. When the reality is different from their expectations, when the marriage is built on little love foundation, this really shakes them."

Social workers also said having the couples declare their criminal records, medical history and bankruptcy will be useful as some people hide the nasty truth.

A woman from China, in her 30s, who married a Singaporean cook 10 years older did not know he was divorced with two children and had been in jail a few times.

She found out only when her application for permanent residence was rejected and his criminal record was a factor.

Some of the foreign women hold back the truth too.

A businessman in his 40s married a woman from China 20 years younger and learnt only after the wedding that she had a five-year-old daughter from a first marriage. It became one of the problems that led to their marriage breaking up eventually.

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