MARRIED TO A FOREIGNER

Mum's burden with husband on visit pass

Home for Ms Vengatalakshmi, her husband Betthi Raj and their children Lineysha and Balakrisha is a one-room HDB rental flat in Marsiling.
Home for Ms Vengatalakshmi, her husband Betthi Raj and their children Lineysha and Balakrisha is a one-room HDB rental flat in Marsiling. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Singaporean Vengatalakshmi Velusamy met and married driver Betthi Raj in India in 2009. She gave birth to a son in India a year later - but more than half a decade later, living in Singapore now, things do not seem so rosy.

This is because her husband, a 34-year-old Indian national, is not able to work here. He and their son, also an Indian national, are on visitor passes which they need to renew every month. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has also rejected Mr Betthi's application for a long-term visit pass, and also for a student pass for the couple's son, Balakrisha.

It falls on Ms Vengatalakshmi to provide for the family - which has also expanded, as the couple had a daughter, Lineysha, born in Singapore in 2014. The 34-year-old mum works as a relief security guard for about $70 a day, earning about $1,600 a month.

She says: "I do not have many job options. I have only Secondary 3 education. If I stop working for one day, the family has no money."

They live in a one-room HDB rental flat in Marsiling, rented under her name and that of her daughter. "The Housing Board needs two Singaporeans, and we are the only Singaporeans in the family," she notes.

  • INCOME AND FAMILY

  • PROFILE NAME: Vengatalakshmi Velusamy

    AGE: 34

    FAMILY: Lives with husband Betthi Raj, 34; son Balakrisha, five; and daughter Lineysha, two; in a one-room rental flat in Marsiling. Her husband and son are Indian nationals. Balakrisha was born in India, while Lineysha was born in Singapore.

    JOB: Security guard

    FORMS OF ASSISTANCE: Monthly ComCare short- to medium-term assistance scheme allowance of $850 when Ms Vengatalakshmi attends a healthcare attendant course.

    HOUSEHOLD INCOME: $1,600

    PER CAPITA INCOME: $400

    EXPENDITURE: $1,600 on food, transport and visa applications

    • About 28,000 marriages are registered in Singapore each year and about three in 10 involve a Singaporean and a foreigner, according to the latest available statistics.

    • Foreigners who marry Singaporeans do not automatically qualify for long-term stay here. Not all who get to stay are allowed to work. Only those on the Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus (LTVP+) scheme introduced in 2012 can work and enjoy some healthcare benefits. There were 7,300 foreign spouses here on the scheme at the end of September 2014, up from 3,900 in 2012.

    • Ms Vengatalakshmi is attending a six-month full-time course certified by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency that will qualify her to work as a healthcare attendant earning more than $1,700 a month.

    • Her course fees are about $12,700 at the HMI Institute of Health Sciences, but Singaporeans and permanent residents get 90 to 100 per cent subsidies. She did not have to pay for the course and has four months to go before completing it.

Ms Vengatalakshmi says life has always been tough. When she was four, her mother was paralysed after a motorcycle accident: "I grew up without a mother to look after me. I had to look after her instead."

Her father worked as a postman, and she has a brother as well.

On her 21st birthday, she got married, but divorced seven years later. "The only good thing was that we didn't have a child," she says.

The family's financial prospects improved last year after Ms Vengatalakshmi got help from ComCare. The Social Service Office and Community Development Council found her a spot on a healthcare attendant course and she has been receiving a monthly allowance of $850 for six months, which expires next month.

She has put her security guard job on hold while she attends the full-time course, working only during the weekends or during breaks between modules. She has completed half the course and is waiting for a two-week attachment before starting the latter part.

On completion, she will be able to work as a healthcare attendant. "The long-term prospects are better," she says. "There is job stability and I can sponsor my husband's stay with a stable job."

Latest salary data from the Manpower Ministry shows that the median gross monthly wage of healthcare attendants was $1,705 in 2014.

Ms Vengatalakshmi plans to juggle between being a security guard and a healthcare attendant, with one job during the day and the other at night.

"I will do it even if it means seeing my family for one hour each day," she adds, her eyes welling up with tears. "I am prepared to work hard."

Indeed, while pregnant with Lineysha in 2014, "I found an employer, Concord Security, that was willing to hire me and I worked until I delivered my daughter".

She recalls that when she was in secondary school, she was "quite good" with computers, but did not get to pursue her interest. "It is too late for me now," she laments.

For now, she is hoping to give her two children a better life.

"Balakrisha wants to be a policeman, but he cannot even go to kindergarten here," says Ms Vengatalakshmi. "I don't know why ICA rejected the student pass application. I gave birth to him and I am a Singaporean."

She does not have time to teach him at home and her husband does not speak English.

When The Sunday Times visited two weeks ago, the five-year-old was playing games on a tablet.

Besides the student pass for her son, the mum hopes to get her husband on a special category of the long-term visit pass that allows foreign spouses of Singaporeans to live and work here.

In the long run, she wants both to become permanent residents and, eventually, citizens, buying their own Housing Board flat.

"My husband was earning a good living in India. Life is harder now but I do not regret coming back," she says. "This is our home now and all I want is for my children to have a better life than me."


Toh Yong Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Mum's burden with husband on visit pass Married to a foreigner'. Print Edition | Subscribe