More foreign spouses on temporary passes seeking help

Mrs Suparmi Foo (right) with her two Singaporean daughters, five-year-old Gerardin (left), and two-year-old Carolyn. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Foreigners married to Singaporeans but who are not permanent residents here are often left to fend for themselves if their partners leave them due to reasons such as divorce, death, or abuse.

These foreign spouses stay in Singapore on temporary passes, such as long-term visit passes, which have to be renewed. They have to leave Singapore when the passes, usually applied for by their Singaporean partners, expire.

The situation is more complex for those with Singaporean children, as this means the foreign spouses face the prospect of being separated from their children.

Figures from non-governmental organisations working with foreign spouses show more of them are reaching out for help.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), which provides a helpline service, legal support, and counselling for women, was approached by 61 foreign wives for help last year, up from 28 in 2011.

The Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants & Itinerant People (ACMI), which also supports foreign spouses with counselling and guidance, also reports growing numbers.

A Sunday Times report in April 2016 said the Catholic-run group received 240 calls for help from foreign wives, and handled 46 cases involving them last year, compared with 210 calls and 30 cases in 2011.

Its executive director Esther Chia said Singaporeans with foreign spouses may not be familiar with immigration and labour laws. This may cause problems down the road.

"They may not think about the circumstances that either of them or their children will be left to face when the situation changes," she said.

Executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) Sheena Kanwar said foreign spouses who have left their homes for years often have little support left in their hometowns.

Such is the case with Mrs Suparmi Foo, who has two Singaporean daughters. The 29-year-old, whose Singaporean husband died in July, is estranged from her family in Central Java.

"As a society, we need to be more empathetic, not look at them as outsiders, and help them feel more welcomed," said Ms Kanwar.

Aware's senior manager of programmes and communications Jolene Tan added that the problems faced by foreign spouses usually stem from their uncertain legal status. Long-term visit passes provide just a short-term solution.

"They need a transparent way to transition to permanent residence and eventually citizenship," she said.

Foreign spouses who need help can call Aware's helpline at 1800-774-5935, or the ACMI's helpline at 9188-9162.

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