An anxious wait for expats

For months, Briton Jamie Pierre has been trying to get approval to travel to Singapore for his new job there.

But after repeated checks online plus multiple emails and messages, he is frustrated, confused and still without an entry permit.

Now, as Singapore says it may ease Covid-19 quarantines in September for vaccinated people, he hardly dares to feel optimistic.

“It does give me some hope,” said Pierre, 32, who works for a marketing procurement platform.

“But... I’m kind of tempering that hope” with worry of more delays, he added.

The pandemic has disrupted global mobility on a scale that hasn’t been seen since World War II.

Governments in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, China, Thailand and Hong Kong, have maintained quarantine and entry requirements.

Singapore has had especially strict border controls, quarantine and contact tracing.

It has been one of the most successful countries in curbing Covid-19, with only 39 deaths.

But for its legions of foreign workers – who make up one-fifth of the 5.7 million population – the restrictions have been a nightmare, with many stranded abroad despite having jobs and visas, and others afraid to leave for fear of not being allowed to return.

The government recently said it was considering quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people starting in September, when 80% of the population should be inoculated.

It also plans to review some virus restrictions in early August, when two-thirds are on track to be inoculated. The pandemic has forced Singapore to weigh its reputation as one of the world’s most accessible business climates against its efforts to control the virus.

“As a small economy, Singapore must and will remain open and connected to the world,” the manpower and trade ministries said.

Since last year, foreign work visa holders have needed special permits to enter Singapore.

The city-state largely stopped accepting new applications from most countries in May after a surge in coronavirus cases globally.

Although many workers have successfully entered, others have been frustrated. A Facebook group with 18,000 members features accounts of navigating an opaque permit system.

There is no official data on how many foreign workers are stranded, but an online petition seeking entry for vaccinated passholders from India has nearly 5,000 signatories, many of whom share tales of families separated for months on end.

For now, Pierre has been working remotely.

He has spent months in Airbnbs and temporary accommodation in the UK with his wife and toddler.

“I have to essentially work irregular hours to be able to keep communication with the region,” said Pierre, calling the situation “stressful”. — Reuters

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