Transnational Familes: How Are We Supporting Them?

Parliamentary Question, 15 Jan 2019

https://www.population.sg/articles/the-changing-faces-of-singapore-mixed-race-families

Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) in the last three years, how many foreign brides in transnational marriages are employed in Singapore; (b) how are their children supported in terms of integration; © how successful have the Marriage Preparation, Marriage Support, and Friendship Programmes been since they were introduced; (d) what has been the divorce rate of transnational marriages in the last three years; and (e) what support is given to divorced foreign spouses, especially those with no income.

Below is the oral answer given, and my supplementary question after.

The Minister of State for Social and Family Development (Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong) (for the Minister for Social and Family Development): Sir, we recognise that marriages between Singapore Citizens and Non-Residents may face unique challenges, such as cross-cultural differences. Therefore, in 2014, MSF introduced the Marriage Preparation Programme (MPP) and Marriage Support Programme (MSP) to help these transnational couples. These two programmes are designed to help transnational couples build a strong foundation for their marriage. The MPP focuses on key marital issues such as roles and expectations, communications and conflict management, while the MSP follows up on the MPP post-marriage by helping Non-Resident spouses adapt to life in Singapore. The programmes are well received, with more than 98% of the MPP participants reporting that the programme has prepared them for marriage and that they could apply what they have learnt to their marriage. Similarly, more than 97% of the MSP participants said that the programme has helped Non-Resident spouses adjust to living in Singapore.

In 2015, we also introduced the Friendship Programme, where a trained volunteer is matched to a Non-Resident spouse to help him or her integrate into Singapore. More than 85% of the Non-Resident spouses who participated in the Friendship Programme reported that the programme has helped them adjust to living in Singapore.

To help Non-Resident spouses feel a sense of belonging in their community, the People’s Association (PA) also organises informal chit-chat sessions to bring transnational families, new immigrant families and their neighbours together. Between 2016 and 2018, PA organised 243 chit-chat sessions at Residents’ Committees and Neighbourhood Committees, reaching out to about 15,600 residents.

Sir, most children from transnational families attend our local schools just like other Singaporean children, and interact with students of different backgrounds in their classes and co-curriculum activities. Through the Character and Citizenship Education curriculum in schools, children also learn about our society’s norms and values. Being immersed in our local school environment is the best and most natural way to ensure that they are integrated, and children of transnational families do just as well in school as any other children.

In terms of employment, over the past three years, an average of 14,000 Non-Resident spouses holding Long Term Visit Passes (LTVP/LTVP+) were employed in Singapore each year with a Letter of Consent issued by MOM. This figure includes Non-Resident grooms and brides married to either Singaporeans or Permanent Residents.

Sir, transnational marriages are as resilient as marriages between Singaporeans. The divorce rates for transnational marriages before the fifth and 10th year of their marriage anniversaries are comparable to that for Singaporean marriages from the same cohorts.

For Non-Resident spouses of Singaporeans whose marriages end in divorce, ICA would generally facilitate their continued stay in Singapore through a renewable LTVP, as long as they have custody over young Singaporean children. This is to allow them to care for their Singaporean children here. They can seek support from community agencies for a range of financial assistance and social services, and approach Social Service Offices (SSOs) for an assessment of their needs. SSOs and our Family Service Centres will also provide help and socio-emotional support, if the need arises.

Ms Anthea Ong (Nominated Member): I thank the Minister of State for the clarification. What prompted me to ask the question was that one in three marriages in Singapore involve a Singaporean and foreigner. We understand that a quarter of our babies born are born to a Singaporean and foreigner parent. In light of what the Minister of State has shared, does the Ministry have plans, be it in the long or short term, to introduce new policies or strengthen existing policies?

Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong: Sir, I thank the Member for a very useful question. Every child born in Singapore, whether to a Singaporean couple or to a Singaporean and a non-resident spouse, is a child of Singapore. So, we will do our best to help. I have mentioned that MSF has three programmes to help transnational couples, particularly the foreign spouse to adapt to living in Singapore. We also have the letter of consent issued by MOM to help the foreign spouse find work and employment in Singapore. So, we do have a few programmes to help them — Marriage Preparation Programme (MPP), the Marriage Support Programme (MSP) and the Friendship Programme, all are designed to help foreign spouses to adapt to Singapore and eventually be integrated with our society.

Although I mentioned that these programmes have produced very positive results, we know that there is always room for improvement. My Ministry is in the midst of doing a review MPP and MSP to find out whether there are shortcomings in the programmes and if there are, then we would want to strengthen them further. In the process, we will also explore whether there is a need to offer new programmes. If there is a need, we will seriously consider that.

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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 volunteerism in Parliament.

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