Despite having been born and raised in Singapore, despite identifying as Singaporean and calling Singapore home for all her 32 years, Miss Yuvethra Selvanaiyagam’s application for citizenship has been repeatedly rejected by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) over the past nine years.
Born to a Singaporean father and a “stateless” mother, Miss Yuvethra is considered “stateless” as her parents had not been able to obtain a marriage certificate until after she was born.
Although her parents had married conventionally before she was born, Miss Yuvethra is still legally considered as having been born out of wedlock as her mother had to wait until her brother came of age to sign her marriage certificate, in place of her own late parents.
Miss Yuvethra’s mother, Madam Selvarani Ramparsad, is considered “stateless” herself as she was born during Singapore’s merger and separation with Malaysia – tumultuous times that made proving her place of birth difficult.
Stateless people like Miss Yuvethra and her mother are issued blue identity cards like those issued to Permanent Residents (PRs). Stateless residents in Singapore are granted the same privileges as PRs – they are free to live, work, attend public schools and buy property here.
However, unlike PRs who enjoy privileges in their home countries, ease of access when traveling and the identity of belonging to a globally recognised nation, stateless residents face an uncertain future and numerous hassles ordinary PRs and citizens wouldn’t have to face purely because they are classified as being stateless.
Without citizenship, stateless residents do not qualify for state subsidies. Traveling to foreign countries becomes a nearly unattainable goal since stateless residents do not have a nationality or a passport – instead they have to take on the arduous process of obtaining a Certificate of Identity besides writing to the embassy of the country they hope to visit to receive clearance to travel.
These disadvantages, as distressing as they are, can be considered minor in the face of the social stigma stateless residents face. Stateless residents are often mistaken as asylum-seekers or fugitives and face severe limitations as they seek a better life.
The stateless label costs these people potential jobs and access to opportunities that are more easily available to others – not because they are necessarily more qualified, but simply because they have a nationality.
Such discrimination leads to emotional and psychological distress, as well. In speaking to The New Paper on Sunday, Miss Yuvethra said she feels as Singaporean as she can be but began to lose hope of ever legally becoming a Singaporean and fulfilling her dreams and ambitions when her citizenship application was rejected for the fourth time last year.
This rejection is in spite of her efforts and hopes to improve her chances after each previous rejection by enrolling in technical courses.
As she sought help from a Member of Parliament (MP), a volunteer at the the MP’s told her that she had a better chance to attain citizenship if she married a Singaporean.
This stung her because she remembered her former fiancé, a foreigner who was granted citizenship, infuriating her with his insinuation that she could only achieve what should have been her birthright through him.
She said, “how is it that someone who came here to work can be a Singaporean while I cannot? Why must I marry for citizenship?”
With potential jobs and relationships slipping through her fingers due to her stateless status, Miss Yuvethra grew desperate and tried to contact the Prime Minister’s Office through Facebook – an effort that yielded no results other than to make her feel small: “I have never thought I had to stoop to that. I feel like an alien in my own homeland.”
According to the ICA, nine in ten stateless residents are granted citizenship upon application. Applicants must generally show proof of good character, the intention to reside permanently in Singapore and financial stability to be granted citizenship but the exact criteria is shrouded in confidentiality to prevent the abuse of information.
For Miss Yuvethra – who had, until recently, only been able to find part-time or contractual jobs – proving financial stability has been a paradox as she can typically only land a good job if she has citizenship and she also needs a good job to qualify for citizenship. Local restaurant owner, Ms Nancy Lee, came to Miss Yuvethra’s aid and alleviated some of her stress by offering her a full-time job as a restaurant manager and a monthly salary of $2,000.
Still, it is uncertain whether stateless residents like Miss Yuvethra who fall between the cracks will ever be granted citizenship.
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