Why make it harder for spouses of foreign workers to take up jobs in Singapore?
The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) is dismayed by the policy change on employment criteria for dependant’s pass holders in Singapore, where they will have to apply for a work pass to be hired here rather than on a Letter of Consent issued by the ministry.
The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) is dismayed by the policy change on employment criteria for dependant’s pass holders in Singapore, where they will have to apply for a work pass to be hired here rather than on a Letter of Consent issued by the Ministry of Manpower. ("From May 1, dependant’s pass holders will need to obtain work passes if they want to work in S’pore"; March 3)
A dependent’s pass is issued to the legally married spouse or unmarried under-21 children of employment pass or S pass holders, who are foreign professionals or workers holding a job here.
As of 2020, about 11,000 of dependant’s pass holders were working on Letters of Consent.
From May this year, dependant’s pass holders will need to apply and qualify for a work pass before they can be employed in Singapore.
This move makes it more difficult for these dependents to be employed, since they would have to be subject to quotas, levies and qualifying salaries.
From our experience, many dependant’s pass holders are women who have followed their husbands to be in Singapore.
While national data on the gender breakdown of dependant’s pass holders is not publicly available, we expect this policy change to have a gendered impact — meaning, to penalise women more than men.
Aware often receives calls on its women’s helpline from these women, who express a great sense of insecurity as a “trailing” spouse.
Being wholly dependent on their husband for their right to stay in Singapore is already a disempowering experience in itself.
Restricting their access to employment — thereby cutting off a basic source of financial resources — further skews the power imbalance between these couples, with women being on the disadvantaged end.
Our experience has shown that "trailing" spouses who did not work found themselves in very vulnerable positions when they faced marital difficulties or abusive situations, especially since they did not have the support of their family and networks, and were unfamiliar with the legal system.
This inequality is exacerbated by a class bias embedded in the policy: Those whose skills are not highly valued by the market and who cannot command a high enough wage could essentially lose their right to work here.
One may argue that these dependents should just rely on their spouse for financial support. However, for reasons outlined above, such reliance could potentially put them in a more vulnerable position.
Dependant’s pass holders are already making contributions to Singapore’s society and economy, through the provision of their skills and services such as teaching in international schools or doing marketing and communications work. Why should we deny them the opportunity to contribute?
By making it difficult for spouses and partners to work, are we risking losing talents to other destinations?
Hong Kong allows spouses of professionals to work without prior permission of the immigration department.
Similarly, countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany and New Zealand provide a direct and unrestricted permission to work.
We strongly urge the Ministry of Manpower to reconsider this policy change, and to allow dependant’s pass holders to work on a Letter of Consent.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Chong Ning Qian is a senior executive of research at the Association of Women for Action and Research.
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Related topicsAware women dependant's pass holder job work pass MOM
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