Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.
Singapore, we are told, is a pro-family country. The government actively introduces policies that will encourage young Singaporeans to get married and have children, and nuclear families are often given benefits in the form of tax rebates and subsidies.
Yet there are sometimes stories that make you doubt that stance.
The New Paper ran an article on 17 November about a family now torn apart: upon returning to Singapore and applying for a Long-Term Visit Pass, married couple Mr Y. C. Chen and Ms Li Qiaoyan realised that Ms Li had been served an entry ban. Her offence was not seeking permission from the Ministry of Manpower before getting pregnant and married. Ms Li is now back in China, while Mr Chen had to quit his job to care for their 10-month-old son.
Under Singapore’s current rules, existing and former work permit holders are required to obtain permission from the state before marrying Singaporeans. According to The New Paper, the Ministry of Manpower says:
“MOM reviews all marriage applications on a case-by-case basis. Factors taken into consideration include the economic contributions of the applicants, the ability of the applicants to look after themselves and their family without becoming a burden to the society or state.”
The New Paper also reported MOM’s position that “work-permit holders, as transient workers, ought to come to Singapore only for work”.
There are 980,8000 work permit holders in Singapore. It’s impossible that these men and women are here “only for work”; they don’t just come here to serve us food, work in our construction sites and clean our homes. They come here with all their likes and dislikes, their hopes, dreams and desires. They’re people. It’s hardly surprising that they might meet someone and fall in love.
Yet the state doesn’t seem to see them as the multi-dimensional human beings they are. It expects them to serve, and only to serve. When they fall in love and want to get married or have children, they are expected to apply to Singapore for permission, even though it should be none of the state’s business who anyone chooses to marry. The state will then decide if the work permit holder is a worthy (read: economically viable) spouse for the Singaporean.
This rule even applies to former work permit holders. Come to Singapore on a work permit and your desire to marry your partner – if he/she is a Singaporean – will always be dependent on special dispensation from the Controller of Work Passes.
Such rules and requirements show us that the state is, perhaps, only pro-a-certain-type-of-family. If you’re a non-Singaporean, if your “economic contribution” is deemed wanting, then maybe your family is not so important after all.