BY LIM YAN LIANG, Straits Times

FROM next January, Singaporeans who want to marry a foreigner have a new option that can speed up their application for the spouse to live here, by as much as five months.

The spouses will also find it easier to work in Singapore as the new rules would no longer classify them as foreign workers, subject to quotas and levies.

The new measures may go some way towards easing the labour crunch while removing much of the uncertainty that unions between Singaporeans and foreigners currently involve.

The couple will have a clearer idea of what they are getting into and learn much more about the backgrounds of their prospective spouses.

They can apply for a Letter of Eligibility from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) before they tie the knot.

This option is to help couples be fully aware of their partners’ backgrounds, said the ICA, as the application requires both sides to give such information as details of past marriages, the children from these marriages, their educational and employment backgrounds and criminal records, if any. Each will get a copy of their own and their partner’s completed forms.

The new move, announced by the ICA yesterday, is part of a series of policy changes to lend support to the growing number of Singaporeans marrying foreigners. Three in 10 marriages nowadays involve such transnational couples, compared to two in 10 in 2003.

With the Letter of Eligibility, the couple need to wait six weeks, at most, for a Long- Term Visit Pass, compared to a maximum of six months for couples who choose to apply for the pass after they marry.

The Letter of Eligibility is valid for only one year, which means the couple must marry within this period.

These spouses on a Long- Term Visit Pass will get a Letter of Consent from the Ministry of Manpower when they get hired, waiving their employers from treating them as foreign workers. This means they will not fall under the increasingly tight foreign worker quota and the employers hiring them no longer have to pay a foreign worker levy, which can be as high as $1,050 in the construction sector.

The moves come four days after Monday’s announcement that the Ministry of Social and Family Development will start two new marriage programmes to give better support to transnational couples.

The pre- and post-marriage programmes, starting from Dec 1, will help these couples deal with issues unique to such marriages.

The ministry said yesterday that its Marriage Preparation Programme is a 21/2-hour session touching on cultural differences and available at the Registry of Marriages near Fort Canning Park.

Those who are married will be encouraged to attend the Marriage Support Programme, an eight-hour course that will teach foreign spouses conversational English and tell them where they can seek community support. It will be rolled out to Family Service Centres and community clubs across the island.

Marriage counsellors welcomed the ICA announcement, saying the cases they see often revolve round problems arising from the spouses not having a full picture of their partners’ backgrounds and Singapore’s immigration laws.

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