SINGAPORE - Singaporeans and their would-be foreign spouses will from January next year, be able to start the process of applying for the spouses' Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP) before they tie the knot, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced on Friday.
This is a change from the current policy where the application process for the long-term pass starts only after marriage.
The change is to help couples be fully aware of the financial and other relevant background of their would-be spouses before they exchange their vows.
This is because the application process requires both sides to furnish information such as on past marriages, whether there are children from these marriages, their educational background, and criminal records, if any. The applicants will each receive a copy of the forms.
Under the current system, a long-term pass application can only be made after marriage. The pass allows the foreign spouse to stay in Singapore for a longer duration, typically up to a year.
Another change announced on Friday is that from next year, employers who wish to hire someone who is a foreign spouse staying here on a long-term pass can apply for a Letter of Consent. Upon issuance, the foreign spouse will no longer be counted against the foreign worker quota or require a foreign worker levy, said the Ministry of Manpower."
This means that such individuals will not be counted against the foreign worker quota that companies have to abide by - and employers will not need to pay the foreign workers' levy when employing them.
The changes follow Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing's announcement on Monday that his ministry would launch two new programmes to better support transnational couples and help them deal with issues unique to such marriages.
Couples planning to marry can sign up for the ministry's Marriage Preparation Programme to help them understand the realities of marriage here.
The programme covers issues such as whether the foreign spouse can work here, and whether they will get immigration privileges that will allow them to stay in Singapore, said Mr Chan.
Those already married can opt for the ministry's Marriage Support Programme, which will help them and their children integrate into society here and resolve marital problems that may arise.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said that couples who are successful in their application will receive a Letter of Eligibility that will shorten the processing time for the actual pass once they are married.
Such couples will also be "strongly encouraged" to attend the voluntary Marriage Preparation Programme before they tie the knot.
Marriage counsellors here said that Singaporeans with foreign spouses face a number of unique challenges. Besides financial difficulties, housing and job issues, such couples may have certain expectations of what the marriage will bring; communication issues because of cultural differences; and feel isolated because they have less family support around them.
A large age gap between couples, which is not unusual in such marriages, can also lead to issues of insecurity and jealousy, said Ms Petrine Lim, a social worker with Fei Yue Family Service Centre.
Added Ms Ruth Tan, centre director of the Marine Parade Family Service Centre: "Attending a pre-marriage programme can help transnational couples understand each others' actual situations, and the realities they may face."