By Desmond Ng
HE HAS been waiting to marry his girlfriend for more than four years.
But even after more than 20 appeals to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Mr Kumar Kanna, 44, still can't get the required permission to do so.
The problem is that his girlfriend, Miss Pacita Vallejos Tibayan, is a Filipina who had worked here as a maid some six years ago.
Miss Tibayan, 34, left for the Philippines in November 2004.
She and Mr Kanna, a sales manager in an electronics shop here, applied to get married that year when she was still working in Singapore.
But their application was rejected.
Miss Tibayan then returned to the Philippines towards the end of her contract.
Although no reasons were offered by the ministry on why his application was rejected, Mr Kanna said an MOM officer told him that it was because his monthly $1,700 income was deemed too low to support a family.
Mr Kanna, who has a primary six education, is earning about $2,500 now.
Undeterred by the rejection from MOM, he persisted and applied again and again.
Mr Kanna has a stack of over 20 rejection letters from MOM dating back to 2004.
Every appeal letter he sent out gave him some measure of hope. But each rejection letter he received brought him more despair.
He said: 'I've gone to a few MPs (Members of Parliament) for help, but even then, my appeals were still unsuccessful.
'I understand that the current regulation does not allow Singaporeans to marry maids who are still working here.
'But she's no longer working here as a maid, so why can't we get married?'
Mr Kanna has not given up. He said he sent out another appeal letter to MOM last week.
The couple met here when Miss Tibayan was working for his boss' family, who owns an electronics shop.
The two of them hit it off immediately.
Said Mr Kanna: 'Both of us got on really well and even my boss was okay with our relationship.'
He misses her terribly and said that it is torture for both of them to be caught in this situation.
He reckoned that he spends about $1,500 a year on air tickets and phone bills to keep in contact with Miss Tibayan.
He sends about $300 to her every month. Miss Tibayan, who graduated from high school, is now selling sundry goods in a market in the Philippines.
The couple see each other only twice a year.
Mr Kanna flew to the Philippines during the Chinese New Year period while Miss Tibayan will come to Singapore next week during Deepavali.
He said: 'The Government keeps encouraging us to get married and have babies. I want to do that, but the Government is also standing in my way.
'Unlike others who cannot find a partner, I have already found my love, but I am unable to be with her due to certain unclear rules from MOM.
'Our happiness and lives are being controlled by such constraints and we are feeling very helpless.'
Miss Tibayan, who spoke to us from the Philippines, said that she is also getting tired from all the waiting.
She said: 'It has been so long. I am very sad because we've been together for so many years and we've been separated for just as long.
'I am not very happy, but what can I do?'
Mr Kanna is the second oldest child in a family of seven. His father is 88 years old, and his mother is 75.
His desperation and concerns are understandable - all his siblings and even some of his nieces and nephews are already married.
He is eager to settle down, but time is ticking away. He acknowledges that both of he and his girlfriend are not young anymore, especially if they want to start a family.
He said: 'My parents are also very old and they really long to see me get married. I just need to know the date when I can marry my girlfriend. It is ridiculous for me to be appealing so many times.
'Usually, people seek for marriage approval from parents, while for my case, I need to seek approval from MOM.'
Under the Marriage Restriction Policy, all current and former work permit holders are required to seek approval from the ministry before marrying a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident (PR). Such unskilled workers earn up to $2,500 a month.
Said a MOM spokesman: 'If the marriage proceeds without approval, the spouse may not be able to obtain residency status in Singapore.
'This requirement is necessary to send a clear message to foreign workers that they should come here only to work and not with the intention of sinking roots in Singapore.'
In assessing application by citizens or PRs to marry current or former work permit holders, MOM said they will consider, among other factors, whether the couple is likely to be financially self-reliant.
Mr Kanna said that MOM would not reveal what is the required income to be considered self-reliant.
This article was first published in The New Paper on Oct 22, 2008.