Aware calls for migrant spouses to be included for social assistance and benefits in Budget 2021

Aware said migrant spouses make up a core part of Singapore society.
Aware said migrant spouses make up a core part of Singapore society.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Foreign spouses of Singapore citizens should get access to social assistance schemes and benefits, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) said on Friday (Jan 8).

These migrant spouses make up a core part of Singapore society, having established family ties here and contributed to the nation through their labour both within the household and the workforce, it added.

There should also be clear paths and timelines to permanent residency and citizenship for such spouses, Aware said in its wishlist for this year's Budget that it submitted to the Government on Friday.

The gender equality advocacy group said excluding migrant spouses from benefits and social assistance could trap their families in a cycle of poverty and perpetuate gender inequality, as many tend to be foreign women married to lower-income Singaporean men.

Aware also suggested that migrant spouses should be allowed self-employment, citing this as a way for these transnational families to alleviate their financial burdens.

Currently, many migrant spouses do not automatically have the right to work in Singapore.

Those who do not qualify for employment-based passes such as work passes have to be sponsored by their Singaporean spouses for a long-term visit pass (LTVP) or long-term visit pass-plus (LTVP+).

These allow them to apply for a letter of consent from potential employers, which is needed before they can work. Self-employment is not allowed.

Aware recommended that the Government allow self-employment for LTVP and LTVP+ holders, adding that the flexibility of being self-employed would also benefit migrant mothers who need to balance earning an income with raising children.

The group's other recommendations include several it made for last year's Budget, such as a call to introduce a pilot universal basic income scheme or a Caregiver Support Grant to provide a monthly income for those caring for older family members, as well as a mandatory paid eldercare leave scheme.

"While Covid-19 has changed all of our lives in some form or another, the pandemic's impact throughout society has not been equal," Ms Shailey Hingorani, Aware's head of research and advocacy, said in a statement urging policymakers to pay more attention to the burden of financial insecurity and caregiving labour that disproportionately falls on women.

She added: "As we prepare to future-proof Singapore citizens against economic disruptions, we must seriously consider providing an income floor for all."