S'poreans marrying foreigners: 3,900 couples a year do pre-marriage visa assessment before saying 'I do'

SINGAPORE – An average of 3,920 transnational couples a year between 2015 and 2020 applied to undergo an assessment before they say “I do” that looks at the likelihood of the foreigner qualifying for a long-term visit pass after the marriage to the Singaporean.

The Long Term Visit Pass Assessment also allows such couples to “exchange key information about themselves”, including their spouses and children from previous marriages, their income and criminal records, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

It was introduced in January 2015 amid a significant number of transnational marriages here.

In 2019, 4,426 Singaporean men wed non-resident brides – making up one in five marriages involving at least one citizen, according to the Government’s Population In Brief 2020 report.

Social workers and lawyers who work with foreign wives said some of these couples marry after meeting a few times, or after a very brief courtship, and hardly know their partners. And one or both parties may not be forthcoming about their backgrounds.

The pre-marriage Long Term Visit Pass Assessment also gives couples a reality check of the challenges that the foreign spouse could face in securing a long-term stay here, said those interviewed.

Lawyer June Lim said: “So at least if they decide to marry (after doing the pre-marriage Long Term Visit Pass Assessment), they do so with their eyes wide open.”

For example, Ms Lim has a client, a Vietnamese woman, 30, who wed a Singaporean driver twice her age. He told her he was divorced once with two grown-up children. After their marriage, she found out he was divorced three times with six children.

The Vietnamese woman, who wed before the assessment was introduced, told The Straits Times she would not have married the Singaporean if she knew the truth as he had too many dependants, among other reasons.

She is now divorced as her former husband turned out to be an abusive man who laid hands on her and often failed to provide for her and their young son.

The Straits Times understands that some couples do not tie the knot after doing the assessment, although the MHA spokesman said it does not have information on the reasons why couples may choose not to proceed with their marriage plans after an assessment.

The MHA spokesman said: “We strongly encourage all Singaporeans who are considering marriage to a foreigner to go through the Pre-Marriage Long Term Visit Pass Assessment prior to marriage, as it will allow them to obtain more clarity on whether the foreign spouse will qualify for long-term stay in Singapore after marriage, and hence to better plan for their future.”

The Government is currently holding a series of Building A Singapore That Is Made For Families conversations online, which will conclude in September, to better understand Singaporeans’ thoughts on marriage and parenthood and how these may have changed due to the pandemic.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said these conversations will also include families where the spouse is of a different nationality.

The MSF spokesman said: “We recognise that some of their challenges may be different from couples who are both Singapore citizens. The feedback from this series of conversations will be taken into consideration for future reviews of policies supporting marriage and parenthood in Singapore.”

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In December 2014, the MSF introduced the Marriage Preparation Programme and Marriage Support Programme to help couples start their marriage on a strong foundation.

For example, the Marriage Support Programme focuses on communication and conflict management, managing finances and information on living in Singapore to help foreign spouses adapt here.

From 2015 to 2019, an average of 660 couples a year attended both the Marriage Preparation Programme and the Marriage Support Programme.

The MSF spokesman said that some Singaporeans marrying a non-resident spouse whose long-term visit pass is approved are required to attend the Marriage Preparation Programme and Marriage Support Programme before the pass is given to them.

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