BY LIM YAN LIANG, Straits Times

SINGAPORE – With three in 10 marriages here now involving a foreign spouse, several government bodies have teamed up to offer support for the unique problems faced by transnational couples.

The Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF) will provide pre- and post-marital programmes from December 1 that will cover immigration, job, housing and money issues for such couples, its minister Chan Chun Sing announced yesterday.

Other initiatives will be announced later this week by the Ministry of Manpower, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the National Population and Talent Division.

Couples planning to wed can sign up for the MSF’s Marriage Preparation Programme, which aims to help them understand the realities of marriage here. It will cover topics such as whether the foreign spouse can work here, and whether they will get immigration privileges that will allow them to stay in Singapore, said Mr Chan.

Those already married can opt for the MSF’s Marriage Support Programme, which will help them and their children integrate into society here.

“It’s not just for the adults,” Mr Chan noted. “More importantly to provide that stable platform for the next generation, for their children to grow up in Singapore and to have the chance, like other Singaporeans, to seize the opportunities that the society allows them to have.”

The programmes are being launched at a time when the number of transnational marriages is going up, added Mr Chan.

A decade ago, unions between a Singaporean and a foreigner accounted for only one in five marriages. These numbers exclude marriages between a Singaporean and a PR.

Counsellors said marriages with foreign spouses face special challenges such as reconciling different cultural backgrounds, mismatched expectations, adapting to life here, and running into financial, job, and housing issues.

The programmes will first be rolled out at two Family Service Centres (FSCs) run by Fei Yue Community Services and Care Corner and will later be extended to the other FSCs, said Mr Chan.

While they will be voluntary, he hopes transnational couples will see their value. MSF will also tap on the network of FSCs and local communities to refer cases that would most benefit from these programmes.

“Once the programme is able to demonstrate that it value-adds to a relationship, the word-of-mouth will help us spread the message that actually everybody can benefit from them,” he said.

“If both parties come to the table and have a frank discussion on their expectations of each other, and the kind of challenges that they would need to encounter together, I think it will help to bond them in the marriage,” he added.

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