Johor Baru's transient homes for job seekers in Singapore

Caretaker Steph Rodriguez sings on the house karaoke system (left) as a neighbour and two tourist guests look on. Job seeker Janice (above) checks her tablet in the women's room on the upper floor, accessed by a stairway (right) in the maisonette at
Caretaker Steph Rodriguez sings on the house karaoke system (left) as a neighbour and two tourist guests look on. Job seeker Janice (above) checks her tablet in the women's room on the upper floor, accessed by a stairway (right) in the maisonette at Taman Iskandar in Johor Baru.ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN
Caretaker Steph Rodriguez sings on the house karaoke system as a neighbour and two tourist guests look on. Job seeker Janice (above) checks her tablet in the women's room on the upper floor, accessed by a stairway in the maisonette at Taman Iskandar
Caretaker Steph Rodriguez sings on the house karaoke system as a neighbour and two tourist guests look on. Job seeker Janice (above) checks her tablet in the women's room on the upper floor, accessed by a stairway in the maisonette at Taman Iskandar in Johor Baru. -- ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN
Caretaker Steph Rodriguez sings on the house karaoke system (left) as a neighbour and two tourist guests look on. Job seeker Janice (above) checks her tablet in the women's room on the upper floor, accessed by a stairway (right) in the maisonette at
Caretaker Steph Rodriguez sings on the house karaoke system (left) as a neighbour and two tourist guests look on. Job seeker Janice (above) checks her tablet in the women's room on the upper floor, accessed by a stairway (right) in the maisonette at Taman Iskandar in Johor Baru.ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN

Filipinos prefer to wait there rather than in the Philippines for work pass approval

Filipino Janice was alerted by a beep on her Apple iPad tablet computer - it was a message bearing good news for the job-seeker.

"Your work permit has been approved. Come back to Singapore," said the message from her employment agent on Yahoo Messenger.

Her roommates in the maisonette in Johor Baru gave her hugs of congratulations.

But amid the excitement, they had a worried look - they were thinking about whether they too would get such good news and when that would be.

Some of them are prospective maids and restaurant staff who had entered Singapore as tourists to look for work and then crossed over the border to Johor Baru to wait for their work permits to be issued.

They did this to comply with the Manpower Ministry's rules which state that non-Malaysians applying for work permits cannot be in Singapore while their permits are being processed.

Janice, 24, declined to give her full name as looking for work overseas as a tourist is against Philippine laws. Manila requires Filipinos to have confirmed job offers before leaving the country to ensure that they have been offered fair employment terms.

Such job-seekers from the Philippines stay in about a dozen "transient houses", mostly landed properties, scattered all over JB.

The owners of these homes, mostly Filipinos married to Singaporeans or Malaysians, say they open their homes to help job seekers who are often broke after an arduous job search.

The job seekers pay a rock bottom rate of $12 a day for accommodation and three meals. Those who stay for about a week are offered discounts and pay only $60.

"Some ask to stay for free. And I can't say 'No' to a fellow Filipino in need," said Mrs Suseela Muvendran, 46, who turned her JB maisonette into a transient home last year. Married to a Singaporean, she is now a naturalised citizen.

Such affordable lodgings have also attracted Filipino professionals, who come to Singapore as tourists with hopes of securing a job here, The Straits Times reported last month.

Singapore allows foreign professionals to apply for jobs while on a tourist visa. But if they cannot find a job before their visa expires in a month, they will leave for JB to stay there for a few days and re-enter Singapore on a new tourist pass.

The Sunday Times visited Mrs Muvendran's two-storey maisonette, located in sleepy Taman Iskandar, a 10-minute drive from the Causeway.

Nine tenants stay there in two rooms. They spend most of their time in the house, glued to their mobile phones and tablet computers as they wait for news about their work pass applications. They pass the time chatting and singing karaoke and take turns to clean the house and cook.

Janice is one of the nine tenants. She said that applying for and securing an overseas job while in the Philippines is a longer process.

She added: "Employers can interview me in person when I'm in Singapore and I get a better chance of getting a job." Janice will start work as a waitress in a restaurant in Singapore next week.

But not all are as lucky.

Mr Steph Rodriguez, 29, who cleans and cooks for the tenants in Mrs Muvendran's house, says many other job-seekers who had stayed in the house had their work-pass applications rejected due to the tightened rules on the hiring of foreigners in Singapore over the past year.

"Their hopes of starting a new life in Singapore are dashed. But some will come back to Singapore to try again because that is their dream," he said.

ameltan@sph.com.sg

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