A VERY SAD STORY…

This is the true story of a Filipino helper who had to go back to the Philippines against her will…and even against her employer’s will! She is the poor victim of a system : nobody intended to voluntarily harm her, she didn’t do anything wrong, she was in good health, she was not pregnant, she respected all conditions of work permit, she wanted to continue working in Singapore after several years of experience here.

So what happened then? Let me tell you this very sad story that could have been avoided: it all stands on a good understanding of the law and the rules. A few mistakes paved the way to a painful decision. I’m going to highlight these mistakes.

If you’re an employer, you’ll learn that the law and nothing but the law applies. Don’t ever think that you can find an arrangement with MOM (Ministry of Manpower) or with another employer (in case of a transfer).

And if you’re a helper, learn what your rights are: sometimes employers don’t know the law! You should know it better than your employer because it’s your life, your future. The survival of your family is at stake here: don’t play a game! Be aware!

(For privacy purpose, names and dates have been changed)

It all starts last June when a European employer, Isabelle, has to go back for good to her country after 4 years in Singapore.  Her departure is scheduled on June 30th. She has a Filipino helper, Marisa, and decides to help her find a new employer.

But here Isabelle makes a first mistake: when an employer leaves Singapore to be relocated overseas, the helper’s transfer has to take place at least 30 days before leaving Singapore. Marisa should have been transfered to a new employer before May 31st.

Marisa had been working for Isabelle for a long time and her present work permit was expiring on June 23rd. Isabelle thought that was perfect coincidence: Marisa could stay with her to help packing the house before changing employer!

Here Isabelle makes a 2nd mistake: a helper can’t be transfered to a new employer if her work permit has less than 30 days validity. Marisa should have changed employer before May 23rd.

In the early days of June, it was already too late for Marisa to be transfered: Isabelle had to repatriate Marisa to her home country.

But in the first days of June , Isabelle meets her neighbour, Karin, who has a young baby and a dog, is looking for a good helper. Karin has seen Marisa many times working at Isabelle’s place and she feels like Marisa is THE one! So Isabelle, Karin and Marisa mutually agree for a transfer. They decide not to go through an agency to avoid hefty fees. Karin has hired a few helpers in the past so she feels comfortable with the process. And because both Isabelle and Karin want to be sure that they don’t make any mistake, they decide to go together at MOM (Havelock road) to process the application: that is on June 8th.

MOM’s officer is quite agreeable to them, fills for them the application form, requests for a few documents, doesn’t mention any problem with the limit dates (work permit expiry date or  Isabelle’s departure date). A few days later, Karin has the pleasure to receive from MOM via postal mail her IPA (In Principle Approval letter): it means that Marisa is approved, providing that all the necessary requirements are fulfilled.

Here comes the 3rd mistake: IPA doesn’t mean final approval from MOM. Final approval comes with the final phase of the process which is the “issuing of work permit”. IPA means “I can continue the process”.

With her IPA, Karin can now proceed with purchasing the compulsory insurances. She contracts with a reputable insurance company in Singapore. She provides a copy of the IPA to the insurance company. Now Karin waits for MOM’s green light to do the “issuing of the work permit”. Karin is expecting a phone call, an email or a sms from MOM.

But there is a 4th mistake: MOM doesn’t reply directly through a phone call, an email or a sms. Eveything goes either online (WPOL = Work permit online for employers) or at MOM’s premises (Havelock road). Karin has to check online when MOM acknowledges the payment of the insurance. Once insurance appears on her WPOL session, Karin has 7 days to process the “issuing of work permit”. The limit date to do the issuing is stated on the IPA and must be strictly respected. However, MOM offers a possibility to delay the issuing through an appeal procedure: it’s a simple request form to be filled and sent to MOM before expiry of the issuing delay.

So Karin is still waiting for MOM’s reply. But now June 30th is there and it’s time for Isabelle to leave Singapore to fly back to Europe. Before she takes off, Isabelle helps her helper, Marisa to move to Karin’s home. So now, Isabelle is gone for good and Marisa is living with Karin. And issuing of work permit is still not done…

Now comes the 5th mistake: a helper is not allowed to move house before the issuing of work permit is completed. Here, on a legal point of view, Marisa is still under Isabelle’s responsibility but Isabelle …isn’t around anymore! Marisa is now considered an illegal immigrant in Singapore. Neither her, nor her new employer is aware of the situation.

Finally, Karin gets the green light and is able to complete the issuing of work permit…but no approval comes out. Maybe the online system is down she thinks, or MOM needs some more time to reply? Karin doesn’t worry and decides to clarify the problem after she comes back from a short holiday trip that she had scheduled a long time ago. So Karin and her family exit Singapore for a week vacation and leave Marisa alone at their home. Upon her return, Karin gets a message from MOM: “Marisa is illegal, you need to urgenlty repatriate her to her home country“.

Why was there no immediate reply to the request for issuing of work permit made by Isabelle before she goes on holiday?…Isabelle had the answers…but she just didn’t know that it was altogether…

…Because the request was done 1 day too late.

…Because MOM has found out that Marisa is already living with Karin.

…Because MOM has found out that Isabelle has left Singapore for good.

…Because the initial work permit has expired.

Too many pitfalls for one single application: there was here no hope for any kind of mercy.

Karin tried to explain to MOM that she didn’t intend to make Marisa illegal: but MOM’s reply was sharp: “no one can say that he/ she doesn’t know the law”.

Karin tried to request for an exit to Malaysia to put in a new application: MOM’s had an indisputable assertion: “Singapore and Malaysia have an agreement: none of the country is supposed to expell its illegal immigrants to the other country”.

And MOM’s final word was: “We can’t make any exception to these rules”.

That is for sure the rule of thumb that no Westerners should ever forget when dealing with Singapore, isn’t it?

Marisa had no choice: she has been repatriated. She now has to go through a long Filipino compulsory process (and it’s hard nowadays in the Philippines too to go around the rules!) that will cost her 2 months and at least 2000 SGD to come back to Singapore.

Have you experienced a similar story? Could you change MOM’s decision? Let me know…

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About helpagency

French expatriate in Singapore since 2005, dealing with FDWs issues since 2008, offering training for FDWs (Children Health Urgent Care course)
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