MR RAMZ came to Singapore in March as a tourist but his itinerary did not include visiting the Merlion, Universal Studios or Orchard Road.
Instead, the 29-year-old Filipino had only one goal: to find a job.
He would spend hours scouring employment websites every day, and often had only one meal a day to save money.
Finally, after about four months, he landed a job as a financial analyst at an offshore bank, drawing a monthly salary of $2,800.
Filipino professionals like Mr Ramz, who declined to give his full name, are increasingly taking a route once used mostly by maids to find employment in Singapore: entering the country as tourists. Once they secure jobs, their employers apply for work passes for them so that they can work here legally.
In Singapore, foreign professionals can apply for jobs while visiting. But the authorities "will not grant an extension of visit passes" if the job prospects are unclear, states the Manpower Ministry on its website.
However, Manila frowns on it and has been clamping down on its citizens leaving the country as tourists to prevent human trafficking.
Immigration officials at the airports send people home if they do not have two-way tickets and a sufficient amount of cash to prove that they are genuine tourists.
Mrs Daisy Lopez, who owns employment agency WorkHome Personnel in Singapore, said aspiring maids, who are usually from the countryside, have borne the brunt of the tightened rules.
"The immigration officers can tell by one look that they aren't tourists. They don't dress fashionably and cannot answer the questions confidently," she said.
In contrast, professionals, many of whom hail from cities like Manila and Cebu, have a better chance of convincing immigration officers as they dress better and carry themselves well.
Taking the legitimate route has its advantages, said Filipino bank staff and marketing and retail executives.
It ensures that their rights, such as paying no placement fees, are protected under Philippine laws.
But the process takes several months and has no guarantee of success.
This is because they have to rely on recruitment agencies in the Philippines which are inundated by thousands of applications from university graduates who want to head to Singapore because of the good pay.
Graduates earn only about US$400 (S$510) a month in the Philippines whereas in Singapore, they can draw over $2,000.
So, many prefer the tourist route.
It allows employers to interview them in person, increasing their chances of getting hired.
While they are here, many bunk with their friends for free but dip into their savings to pay for food and transportation.
If they cannot find a job before their tourist visa expires in a month, they apply to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to extend their stay.
In some cases, the extension is rejected.
Filipinos like Mr Ramz then head to Johor Baru for a few days and re-enter Singapore on a new tourist pass.
"It was stressful. But I told myself to stay positive because I must get a job here," he said.
Headhunters such as Mr Satish Bakhda from Rikvin recruitment consultancy said many foreigners who try the tourist route go home empty-handed as the Manpower Ministry continues to tighten the rules for the hiring of foreign workers.
"But some foreigners will still try their luck because the pay here is so much higher than what they earn at home," he said.
One hopeful foreigner is Ms Mary, 26, a Filipino marketing executive whose employer was unable to renew her S Pass and has to leave Singapore next month.
She said: "I've heard of Filipinos who went home without a job. But I'm willing to take my chances and fly here next year as a tourist. I really want to work here."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 23, 2013
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