Support for Transnational Families & Migrant Spouses

Parliamentary Speech, Committee of Supply Debate, Fortitude Budget, 5 June 2020

Low-income transnational families have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 and circuit breaker measures. According to an AWARE survey with migrant spouses of Singaporean citizens in May, 99% of 36 respondents have either lost their jobs or seen a drastic decrease in income since the onset of COVID-19. Close to half were not earning any income from work because their jobs did not allow them to work from home.

Migrant spouses are particularly vulnerable in times of economic crisis as they are often the first to be let go, especially since COVID-19 related job support schemes do not provide incentives for employers to retain non-citizen workers. Can the Ministry consider funding an online platform to facilitate job-matching for these workers at a national level so that employers looking to hire overseas workers could be encouraged to hire from this pool, which includes migrant spouses, first?

This widespread loss in income is making it difficult for many migrant spouses and their families to meet basic needs. They can receive a $300 one-off Solidarity payment but only if they are on LTVP+. Even so, this amount may be insufficient. According to AWARE’s survey, more than half of the respondents reported that, in addition to their current household income, which mostly falls below $2,000, they still need more than $300 a month to meet their basic needs. To cope, some have cut down on food-related expenses; a few said they were unable to pay rent.

Can the Government consider relaxing the citizenship criteria for COVID-19 related financial assistance and make them available for all migrant spouses with a Singaporean in their household? Only when we include those who have chosen to make Singapore home and help raise our children can we truly say we are “SG United”.

The Second Minister for Finance (Ms Indranee Rajah): Mr Chairman, if I may now address Ms Ong’s questions on support for transnational families and migrant spouses.

The support schemes announced at the various Budgets aim to provide support to Singaporean households, including those with non-citizen members, who may be concerned over household expenses during this period. These include household-based benefits like GST Voucher — U-Save rebates and Service and Conservancy Charges Rebate under the Care and Support Package, and the Solidarity Utilities Credit. Transnational families would already be receiving support through the $600 Solidarity Payment to the citizen member, and $300 Solidarity Payment to the PR or LTVP+ spouse. This was explained by the Deputy Prime Minister during the round-up of the Solidarity Budget and in response to a Parliamentary Question from Mr Murali Pillai last month.

If they or their Singaporean family need further financial support during this challenging period, they may seek help through the MSF Social Service Offices (SSOs), which provide assistance to those who fall into financial hardship. MSF has exercised more flexibility when considering ComCare applications during this period, to ensure affected Singaporean families, including those with non-citizen members, can get help. SSOs will also work closely with other agencies and partners to address the family’s needs, including employment concerns. There are also many Social Service Agencies and those in the community providing support to families in need. These include Social Service Agencies funded by MSF to support transnational families.

Migrant spouses who are allowed to work can access work opportunities through many channels, including job advertisements, referrals, recruitment agencies and various online platforms.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng

A full-time human, and part-time everything else.