FEATURE | Blue card holders’ spouses can’t work | ‘There’s a waste of existing human resources in Macau’

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Trang has spent most of her career working abroad. Boosting over 20 years of international work experience, she moved to Macau two years ago with her family but soon realized that working wouldn’t be an option here while she’s under her husband’s blue card.
Macau’s law allows spouses of blue card holders and temporary Macau ID holders to live here under a special stay permit. For blue card holders, only those hired as skilled workers and whose salaries prove sufficient to provide for their families are allowed to bring children and spouses to live here.
These regulations are particularly difficult for the spouses of blue card holders, who are not allowed to work in Macau due to the conditions of their special stay permit.
Trang, who wishes to go by her first name only, says that applying for a blue card of her own might be too challenging: “The company needs to have a quota, because even if I am living here, I’m not considered local.” Meanwhile, having to bring up three kids has also contributed to her decision not to search for employment at the moment.
Although she understands that the government’s intention is to secure jobs first and foremost for locals, Trang recalled that in Singapore, spouses under a dependent visa are still allowed to work if they apply for special authorization from the Ministry of Manpower.
As a result, Trang believes that there’s a waste of existing human resources in Macau. Companies who must adhere to quotas restricting how many foreign workers they can take in could be allowed to hire, for instance, blue card holders’ spouses who already live in the city, she suggested.
“A lot of my girlfriends… they are talented people but they can’t work. By not giving them a chance, the government is wasting the region’s available resources. I have an MBA, and 20 years of international work experience. I have a friend who’s a qualified English teacher – many qualifications that Macau needs,” she stressed.
Although residing in the city, blue card holders’ spouses say they often feel like outsiders. They are not given any identification documents. They’re only provided with a stamp on their passport – a simple special stay permit.
They encounter what some would call small challenges when compared with more serious hurdles other migrants are faced with in Macau. The simple act of opening a bank account is rather tricky: the attacheé may need authorization from the blue card holder.
“It was quite hard, because I had to bring my husband to the bank. I cannot have a checkbook. I cannot have a credit card,” said Trang.
Going through immigration queues at ferry terminals and the airport is another small hassle that makes some feel as though they’re not really at home even when they are.
“For those of us who have been living here for over two years and will be living here for a couple more years, we still feel like outsiders, because we don’t have that little ID,” she recalled.
p5-renato-marques-6I0A3135“When you go through immigration at the border [we think] we are residents, we are not tourists or visitors. However, the restrictions make us feel as though we are not at home. But this is our home. We pay tax here,” she explained, adding that because one of her sons is too young, her family can’t apply to go through the e-channel.
Trang and her family are applying for residency status so that Macau can become their home on paper.
A former blue card holder attacheé, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Times that her family decided to apply for residency status about four years ago when her husband’s company informed them that their daughter – about to turn 18 years old at the time – would no longer be allowed to be under her father’s blue card.
“She was still in school, she still had to complete her senior year at The International School. And so my husband’s company said that we would have to apply for a student visa for her, or we could apply for Macau ID,” she recalled in an interview with the Times.
They chose to apply for Macau ID through IPIM: “I thought, ‘I’m going to do a student visa for her, but then what?’ So we had to do something!”
The family arrived in the region about eight years ago, moving from Chile for her husband’s work. Both her and her daughter were granted special stay permits under her husband’s blue card.
The now Macau temporary resident, who’s from the United States, had her own business in Chile. She thought she could manage it from here. Information available for expats eight years ago, however, was scarce. She didn’t know she would not be allowed to actually work here. “At the time no one told us anything about how things would go in Macau. That was the biggest problem,” she conceded.
Groups like the International Ladies’ Club of Macau were of great assistance, she said. “I didn’t know I would not be able to work. Then I found out that if I wanted someone to sponsor me, that would mean that I would need to cancel myself off of my husband’s blue card, exit the country, and wait, and only come back [after residency is awarded],” she recalled.
That was not an option for her at the time, she said, as applying for a blue card of her own would mean leaving her daughter here while the blue card process was on-going.
Not being able to work and faced with bureaucratic and domestic woes, marriage pressures can start to set in.
“Sure this can bring strains to a marriage (…) I felt depressed for not being able to work. Then I got sick. When you’re depressed, you’re miserable. You think you’re going to be able to do something like in other places. Once I sold my business and got my daughter’s school sorted out, I thought, ‘What am I going to be doing?’ You can only clean your house so much,” she acknowledged.
The Macau temporary resident was able to find many women facing the exact same problems as her while volunteering for the International Ladies’ Club of Macau. She too believes that there’s a waste of highly qualified human resources here.
“The government has a problem finding employees. They want people who are already here. They don’t want to be issuing any extra blue cards or have additional families – let’s say – coming in. So why don’t you use the resources that you already have here? The spouses?” she suggested.
She added that it does not make sense for spouses to be required to leave Macau in order to apply for their own blue card.
“Even working part-time would alleviate a lot of the problems of finding staff in various areas. This could be a solution for many of the positions that are not filled here.” This scheme would not even require any additional housing, she stressed.
Samantha, another temporary resident, was once attached to her husband’s blue card but her family decided that applying for Macau ID would be the best option as well, thus allowing her to go back to work upon having kids.
She originally came to town on her own about eight years ago. Holding a blue card, she worked in retail coordination for the Venetian.
“I actually met my husband in Macau. We started dating around the time of the financial crisis and I was soon transferred to Hong Kong. We continued to date and traveled between Macau and Hong Kong for a few years. Once we decided to get engaged and married, I fell pregnant soon after,” Samantha recalled.
“We then applied to be under my husband’s blue card in order to enable me to move to and stay in Macau. The application took some time and it was a very nerve-
wracking period, waiting to hear if we could be together as a family,” she added.
Samantha believes that it’s quite rare for a company to be willing to take on-board expats, unless they’re extremely qualified in a particular field. Moreover, for mothers with newborns looking to find a part-time job, the number of employment offers available in the local market is very limited.
“We decided to apply for Macau ID because we knew that eventually I wanted to work. We wanted to make Macau our home,” she recalled.
Samantha had previously lived in Singapore for about five years. She explained the city-state’s different approach towards dependent visa holders: “As a spouse you could work part-time. You have a salary and pay taxes like any other person (…) it’s great because people are using their skills, and the city is getting value out of people with that knowledge and expertise.”
“But I sometimes understand as well that Macau wants to look after their people. They want to make sure that locals are employed first,” she added.
When a spouse is not allowed to work here, strains in the marriage do not go unnoticed by many women and men. When moving abroad, especially to Asia, there can be a lot of cultural shock, she said. On top of that, Samantha recalled that the employed spouse is sometimes required to work long hours while they’re trying to settle-
in and complete their assigned work to a high standard.
She concluded by saying, “As a well-educated and smart woman, I had quite good jobs myself, and you feel you’ve lost that ability to go out and use your brain, and work everyday. Me personally, once my ID came through, I launched my own business because I needed to do something, even if it was part-time.”

IAS claims non-resident families are supported

The Social Welfare Bureau (IAS) has told the Times that they provide financial support for organizations working to attend to the needs of non-
resident workers. “We have offered financial aid to social service institutions providing a variety of services to non-resident employees, including a hotline in English [provided by Caritas], group activities, case follow-up, and counseling,” IAS said in a reply to The Times.
According to Macau’s law, special stay permits are granted to direct family members of specialized employees who hold a blue card. Stay permits are granted for the same period of time as their related blue cards.
The regulations clearly state that spouses who are granted a stay permit through their husband or wife’s blue card are not allowed to work in Macau, “except in legally approved situations.”
The Times knows that some blue card holders’ spouses had also been told that they could not volunteer, either. We sought a comment from the Public Security Police Force, also requesting recent figures regarding the number of blue card holders’ spouses currently living in Macau, but did not receive an answer by press time.

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