I saw a ‘Dating in Singapore’ advertisement next to one of my articles in Malaysiakini recently. It got me thinking about some of the problems that Malaysians may face if they want to marry a Singaporean.
The Singapore Today newspaper article headlined ‘Longer wait, harder to get PR or citizenship’ said:
“As for foreign spouses of Singaporeans, the ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) processed an annual average of 15,400 long-term visit passes and 9,900 PR (permanent resident) applications from them between 2005 and 2009. Of these, 2,200 and 4,500 respectively were unsuccessful.”
The numbers indicate that the success rate of applications (for foreign spouses (including Malaysians) of Singaporeans for long-term visit passes and permanent residency was about 86 and 55 percent respectively.
This means that in the last five years about 11,000 (2,200 unsuccessful applications x 5) Singaporeans who married foreign spouses were denied permission for their spouses to stay here under long-term visit passes, while about 22,500 (4,500 unsuccessful applications x 5) were unsuccessful in their application for permanent residency.
Can you imagine the tremendous emotional and financial stress that these 33,500 Singaporeans and their foreign spouses (which could be Malaysians) may well be facing, with spouses and possibly children being denied the right to live in Singapore?
The bureaucratic tangle
Since the requirements for granting foreign spouses’ long-term visit pass or permanent residency is not known, on what basis should a Singaporean decide whether or not to apply for either a visit pass or PR for his or her foreign Malaysian spouse?
The Today newspaper quoted associate professor Ho Peng Kee, who is senior minister of state for law and home affairs, as saying that the key consideration in deciding whether to grant a foreign spouse permanent residency is the ability of the Singaporean to support the foreign spouse financially.
What exactly is the income or asset requirement that applicants need to be met? Providing more information on the criteria would facilitate Singaporeans, especially those with lower incomes, in making informed decisions on whether they can afford to pursue relationships and marriage with foreigners.
The 66,000 (13,200 x 5) Singaporeans whose spouses were given long-term visit passes in the last five years may also face higher medical costs. This is because their foreign spouses are not eligible for any medical subsidies.
To illustrate, Singaporeans hospitalised in a C class ward receive an 80 percent subsidy, while PRs receive 70 percent (to be reduced to 60 percent by July 2011). Foreigners (including Malaysians who are not PRs) receive no subsidy.
This means that a Singaporean with a foreign Malaysian spouse on a long-term visit pass may have to pay up to 3.33 times (100 divided by 30 percent) more than a Singaporean whose spouse is a Malaysian PR.
Average waiting time
It would also be worth finding out how many Malaysian spouses on long-term visit passes eventually receive permanent residency, and how long the average waiting time for the completion of this process is.
There has been many media reports about Singaporeans who have been unable to get permission to marry foreigners, despite repeated appeals to the relevant authorities and their members of parliament (MPs).
Singaporeans with lower-income, lower education or lower-skilled jobs, find it harder to get permission to marry foreigners.
For example, a Singaporean male sales manager in an electronics shop, age 44, earning S$1,700 (RM4,000) a month, was denied permission, with the reason that his income was deemed too low to support a family. Now, after more than 20 appeals to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), more than four years, a few MPs, the answer is still ‘no’ despite his salary having gone up to S$2,500 (RM5,800).
I find it somewhat ironic that a Singaporean can go to a neighbouring country like Vietnam, pay a few thousand dollars, and marry a bride whom he has met only a few days before.
In contrast, if he wants to marry a foreigner, like a Malaysian, who has never been to Singapore on a work permit or S-employment pass, he has to apply for permission.
Surely a relationship of many years with a foreigner in Singapore, may be a more lasting and lovely one, than a ‘few days’ bride transaction.
Will such policies contribute to more strife in marriage and rising divorce rates? At the end of the day, it may be the children of such failed marriages, who may bear the brunt of the consequences.
Forced abroad to marry
There are also cases of Singaporeans who have to travel to foreign countries periodically to meet their foreign wives and children, because permission to marry was denied.
I understand that some Singaporeans who cannot get permission, simply try to get their spouse and children to stay in Johor Bharu, which is just a hop away from Singapore.
Some of these Singaporeans may decide to emigrate, perhaps preferably to Malaysia, eventually.
I find it somewhat contradictory that while we are encouraging procreation because Singapore’s procreation rate at about 1.1 is one of the lowest in the world, and are aware of the increasing trend of Singaporeans marrying non-Singaporeans, which is now at an all-time high of more than 4 out of 10 marriages, that we continue to deny permission to marry in genuine cases.
As Singapore’s constitution and national pledge say equality for citizens, why do we discriminate against citizens on the basis of their income, education and occupation?
If the theory that intelligence is due more to genes than to the environment is correct, are we not in a sense, making the lives of the genetically disadvantaged even harder, by denying their basic human right to love, to marry, and to have children?
I understand that those who have ever worked in Singapore have to apply to the MOM for permission to marry, while others have to apply to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).
Do they use the same criteria of assessment? Why not have just one authority so that the process and criteria may be more consistent?
I would also like to suggest that the criteria be made public, so that Singaporeans and Malaysians don’t fall in love with the wrong people.
Even harder for Singaporean women
With the foreigner population growing at double digits to about 1.3 million now, of which an estimated few hundred thousand are Malaysians, this problem may continue to grow.
If we are worried about ‘sham’ marriages to get residency in Singapore, we can perhaps learn from other countries like the United States, which has severe penalties for sham marriages, while maintaining the right of every US citizen to marry anyone they truly love.
I also understand that for Singaporean women, getting permission to marry a foreigner is even harder than for Singaporean men, as even higher standards of income, education and occupation may be required.
Is this a breach of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), of which Singapore is a signatory?
Finally, perhaps the obvious question to ask is whether Singaporeans who fall in love with Malaysians may face similar issues, if they choose to live in Malaysia?
LEONG SZE HIAN’S late father moved from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore in 1952. Since he was born in Singapore in 1953, there may be some confusion as to whether he was conceived in Malaysia or Singapore.