Monday 17 November 2014

New rule on foreign spouses a boon: Experts

By Janice Tai And Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 16 Nov 2014

The move to make it easier for foreign spouses of Singaporeans to work here will go a long way in helping them contribute financially to their families, say social workers.

From next January, foreign spouses on Long-Term Visit Passes will find it easier to find work. Their employers can get a letter from the Manpower Ministry exempting these foreigners from quotas and levies.

Before, employers had to apply for a relevant work pass before the foreign spouse could begin work. Some 6,800 of them stand to benefit from the relaxation, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) told The Sunday Times.

Said Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises: "Even though the numbers are quite small, it is still an additional labour pool which we welcome and (which) will help employers cut costs."

The series of policy changes announced by ICA last month was in response to the growing number of Singaporeans marrying foreigners.

These days, three in 10 marriages involve such transnational unions, compared with 23 per cent in 2003. There is no official data on the spouses' nationality, but social workers say such unions mostly involve Singaporean men marrying lower-educated women from Vietnam, China and Indonesia.

Last year, there were 5,007 marriages between Singaporean men and foreign women and 1,533 between Singaporean women and foreign men.

Foreign spouses who attempt to find work usually end up with blue-collar jobs in the service industry, such as cashiers or waitresses, due to a lack of educational qualifications or the inability to converse in English or Mandarin, say social workers.

Those with higher education levels may still have to make do with lower-paying jobs, as their qualifications may not be recognised here.

"Employers also sometimes expect them to absorb the levies, so their income is severely compromised," said Ms Cindy Tay, assistant director of Covenant Family Service Centre.

Ms Shannon Chew, a social worker at Trans Safe Centre which helps people who face family violence issues, said having a job would immensely help those with existing family problems such as incarceration, illnesses, poverty or abuse.

For example, one of her cases involves a wife from Cambodia who was beaten and verbally abused by her Singaporean husband. She has been trying to get a job because her husband, a taxi driver, has repeatedly threatened to withdraw the household allowance and they have a two-year-old son. "But she has been having difficulty finding work because many jobs require at least permanent residency and she has only secondary-level education," said Ms Chew.

Mr Timothy Karl, executive director of the Archdiocesan Commis-sion for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, believes the new measures will allow transnational couples to better plan their future. He said: "They can start their job hunt earlier, and get a better idea of whether they are able to work in Singapore."

Said Ms Petrine Lim, assistant director at Fei Yue Family Service Centre (Yew Tee): "If the foreign spouse can also contribute financially, it reduces marital stress and she has some degree of financial independence should any crisis strike such as if her husband gets sick."

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