Visas of Last Resort

by Juan L. Mercado

Did 52-year old widow and mother of two Suzanne Kapistrano “wait for a knight, so she’d get a visa to stay in Israel”?

She did, insisted a faceless Interior Ministry official, Haaretz daily reported.  Published in Hebrew and English, this 82-year old newspaper is read by the country’s decision makers.

“Too  many Filipinas are going this road.  It must stop,” reporter Dana Weiler-Polak quotes from the ministry’s internal memo.  “They must be removed from the country.”

The document reflects “a trend of trying to prevent marriages between Israelis and Filipinas”, the Haaretz report added.

Kapistrano was a caregiver, one of roughly 36,880 Filipino overseas workers in Israel (UAE, in contrast, has 529,114 OFWs, Saudi Arabia 1.02 million.) When Kapistrano’s employer died, she stayed put.  She, meanwhile, “met and fell in love”  with Israeli  Shlomo Tzagir, 67.

They began the five-year process to obtain citizenship for Kapistrano, Officials recommended approval. But the lady who issued visas said no. “Without meeting the couple”, she concluded: “He has someone to take care of him. And she has a way of staying in Israel legally.”

Didn’t this remind you of the Jewish matchmaker Yenta?  In the Broadway play: “Fiddler on the Roof”, Yenta sang: “Hodel, Hodel,  I’ve  made a match for you. / He’s handsome. He’s young./ All  right, he’s 62.  But  he’s a good match, a good  catch/. True? True”.

Even internal document.“do not justify remarks of this type,” a ministry spokesman admitted.  Tel Aviv district court vice president Esther Covo, meanwhile, ordered  release of Kapistrano. “The court will resolve this issue.  (But)  ministry employees do encounter this phenomenon.”

“Phenomenon” refers to marriages of convenience. Some Indians and Koreans marry Filipinas to wangle business permits here. More Filipinas are marrying East Asians: Taiwanese, Japanese and Koreans.

Wedding rings morph into visas-of-last-resort.  They’re escape hatches from grinding penury, Viewpoint (CDN/Jan 8,2008) commented.  Marrying foreigners is a  ticket for possible jobs and settlement abroad, some spouses-to-be admit,  Overseas Foreign Workers Journalism Consortium noted. 

Within an 18-year span, 309,745 Filipinos married foreigners.  Nine out of ten  were brides. An Asian marriage migration trend is surging,  concludes an earlier Commission on Filipinos Overseas study by Minda Valencia, Myrna Ramos, with demographer Nimfa Ogena.  

This surge reveals desperate moves of women who risk settling in a foreign land,  Valencia, Roma, and Ogena observed. Their alternative is coping with a future life in poverty and loneliness.  It also bears a stigma of being labeled as “non-marriageable”. Receiving countries, like Canada, the US, Britain screen for marriages of convenience.

Population growth and poverty undercut chances for this trend to ease soon, cautions the United Nations “Human Development Report.” This year’s HDR focuses on migrants under the title: “Overcoming Barriers – Human Mobility and  Development”.

Attention focus on those who migrate to “far away places with strange sounding names.” But those who move within countries, often from farms to cities, are four times the number of  international migrants.

“Over the past century, the number of nation states quadrupled to almost 200. There are more borders to cross. Even if well managed, international migration does not amount to a national development strategy. Emigration is unlikely to shape  the development prospects of an entire nation

“Migration at best complements national efforts to reduce poverty and improve human development. These efforts remain  as critical as ever.”

“Moving can be sometimes the only option to improve their life chances. In this journey of hope and uncertainty, not all succeed.  They face loneliness, are unwelcome by those who resent new comers, lose jobs, fall ill or lack support services”.

Women migrants tend to send a larger proportion of their incomes homes than men. They do so,  whether as internal migrants or OFWs.  They remit on a more regular basis, “though their lower wages often mean that absolute amounts are smaller….”

Indonesia patterned it’s national agency for protection of migrant workers after the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration, “Other countries …tried to rationalize  ‘paper walls’ to reduce barriers in legal migration. Few  succeeded… Bribes remain common for securing passports, etc….

“Asian migrants moving to the Gulf States often pay 20 to 25% of what they expect to earn over two or three years in recruitment  and other fees…Corruption imposes additional costs.. Regulate private recruiters to curb fraud…

“Employers are the main source of breaches of basic rights – hence their behavior  is paramount…In the Philippines,  recruitment agencies are treated as ‘co-employers.” (They) are liable  jointly and separately  for failure  to comply with a given contract.

“The prime responsibility for ensuring basic rights of migrants, while abroad, lies with host governments. Attempts by source countries like India and the Philippines to mandate  minimum wages typically failed….

Social costs of migration, however, can be extortionate. Of  10,242 Filipinas married to Japanese, 3,931 ended up as divorcees.

“Your loved ones across that ocean/ Will sit at breakfast and try not to gaze/ Where you would sit at table/Meals now divided by five/ Instead of six, don’t feed an emptiness.”, Filipina poet Nadine Sarreal wrote.

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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