Mailbox: Do more to protect rights of foreign spouses

The relevant agencies should be lauded for continuing to take steps to empower foreign spouses by providing them with greater financial independence through work ("New rules clear air for transnational marriages"; last Saturday). However, the odds are still stacked against a foreign spouse should the marriage fall apart, and more can be done to prevent exploitation and abuse.

The authorities ought to re-assess the current short-term visit pass and long-term visit pass regimes, which are subject to renewal at the end of their respective time frames (ranging from three months to three years). In each case, where an application is made for the foreign spouse, the local spouse is required to endorse the application and its subsequent renewal, if the foreign spouse is to remain in Singapore.

When faced with marital difficulties, it is not inconceivable for a local spouse to threaten to withhold endorsement, which may result in the deportation of the foreign spouse from Singapore.

Likewise, when a marriage falls apart, instead of seeking a divorce, the local spouse may simply choose to have the foreign spouse deported.

By doing so, the local spouse can avoid a detrimental court order, which may mandate a division of assets and payment of maintenance. While the foreign spouse has a right under Singapore law to seek maintenance from her husband, it would be much more difficult to do so from another country.

Meanwhile, in a situation where there are children in a marriage and a divorce is sought, the courts, in deciding whether care and control of the children should be awarded to a foreign spouse, would be mindful of the fact that the foreign spouse would have to return to his or her country of origin upon expiry of the pass.

The court may well decide that it is not in the best interest of the children to be placed in the care and control of an absent parent.

The prospect of possible deportation and separation from one's flesh and blood is a daunting one, and foreign spouses, when faced with abusive or unreasonable local spouses, may feel that they have little choice but to suffer in silence.

With three in 10 Singapore marriages involving a foreign spouse, more can be done to ensure that the rights of foreign spouses are better protected.

- Ng Bin Hong

This article was first published on October 27, 2014.
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