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Govt 'wants to help foreign spouses stay'

More will get to be PRs and citizens as their marriages stabilise: DPM Teo. -ST
Andrea Ong

Sun, Mar 10, 2013
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The Government wants to help citizens and their foreign spouses remain together in Singapore and form stable families, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday.

He gave the assurance to several MPs who raised the plight of foreign spouses during the debate on the budget for the Prime Minister's Office.

Both Mr Teo and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu acknowledged the growing number of new immigrants who are foreign spouses of citizens.

Last year, there were around 9,000 marriages between a citizen and a foreigner, said Ms Fu. Children born from such marriages make up about 30 per cent of Singaporean babies born every year.

However, MPs such as Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West) and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said many residents face difficulties in applying for long-term visit passes, permanent residency or citizenship for their foreign spouses.

They called for greater clarity and transparency in the criteria for such applications and reasons for rejection. Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) also asked for more flexibility for foreign children of Singaporeans.

Responding, Mr Teo said foreign spouses would generally be given a long-term visit pass "in the first instance" after considering factors such as the sponsor's ability to support the family and both parties' good conduct.

As of the end of last year, 11,736 foreign spouses of Singapore citizens were on long-term visit passes. Of this group, 4,200 had been granted the enhanced Long Term Visit Pass-Plus (LTVP+) since the scheme was introduced last April.

LTVP+ holders can stay here for three years and get health-care subsidies for inpatient services at restructured hospitals at close to the levels given to permanent residents.

Those on the LTVP can stay for only a year and do not benefit from such subsidies.

Foreign spouses are eligible for the LTVP+ if the married couple has at least one Singaporean child. For those without a Singaporean child, other factors such as the length of marriage will be considered, Mr Teo said.

"But each application will be considered on its own merits," he said. He also assured Mr Nair that the LTVP+ "in no way disadvantages" a foreign spouse's application for PR or citizenship.

Mr Teo said more foreign spouses will qualify to become PRs, and eventually citizens, as their marriages stabilise and they become increasingly integrated.

Over the past five years, 4,100 foreign spouses were granted PR status every year. A further 4,100 took up citizenship each year.

Spelling out the Government's thinking, Mr Teo said: "We want to facilitate such couples to remain together in Singapore and for them to form stable families who would contribute in a positive way to Singapore."

However, Ms Fu also reiterated that building a strong Singaporean core remains at the heart of government policies. She cited preliminary figures for last year, indicating 33,205 new Singaporean babies, while total fertility rate hit 1.29 - a slight improvement from 2011 on both fronts.

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