The overseas Filipino workers are often called the unsung heroes of their families as they choose to pack up for a distant foreign land, live abroad and leave their families behind to work toward fulfilling their families’ dreams.
Despite the hardships at work and the fact that they are holders of only a work permit (commonly known as a blue-card), some Filipino parents based in Macau try to keep their children with them, facing legal hurdles and other obstacles. The increased cost of living in the region makes sustaining this family unity even harder.
Libby Añover, a household worker for 22 years, opted to raise her children who were born in Macau even though her expenses sometimes exceed her salary.
Along with her husband, Allan Añover, who currently works in a Food and Beverage department in one of the leading gaming resorts in the region, they have been raising their twins in the city for 13 years.
“We really decided to raise them here because I can see a lot of our Filipino friends who are really struggling because they are far away from their family,” said the Añovers.
“I myself grew up without my dad because he was a seaman and we were just so estranged from each other,” Libby Añover said.
Although the couple admitted that raising children here in Macau is difficult and expensive, the hardships do not matter to them, as it is one of their chosen priorities to witness their children’s growth and development.
The couple said it still surprises them that they can overcome the difficulties they are experiencing and manage each day as it passes.
“Resources-wise, […] the finances are limited. We can say that whenever we spend, it should go somewhere important. We set aside our personal wants [because] we have to prioritize our children’s needs and then utility bills,” explained Allan Añover.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re able to save money or not because the important thing is that we’re together,” he added.
The couple admitted that after they made the decision to be with their children in Macau they have never pursued their personal wants because they’d rather spend the money on the family’s basic expenses.
“It’s like you’re working but you can’t buy anything. You’d set it aside for the most important needs,” stressed Libby Añover.
Another couple echoed the sentiments, emphasizing the importance of staying together as a family.
“That’s how family is supposed to be. It has to be whole, it has to be together,” said Ayrelyn Benas who also gave birth to her children in Macau. “The expenses are high, it’s hard to save, so they [the children] are then our investment,” she added.
Benas, whose three children are studying at a local Chinese school, considered it wise to raise her children in the region despite the increasing living costs.
“You can guide them [here], unlike when they are far away from you. You might be sending money but they’re not studying. If there’s a chance to be together, why not?” said Benas who works in a restaurant that was previously distinguished by the reputed Michelin guide.
The mother also revealed there are some activities and competitions in schools, which their children are not eligible to join since they are non-local. Yet since the competition prizes come from government entities, she understood that the government prioritizes residents.
However she noted that some of the local foundations have acknowledged her children’s academic excellence and as a result they have been receiving cash prizes.
Another parent, Gigilyn Tambot, stressed to the Times through a phone interview that there is a great need for non-resident workers with families here to be thrifty. She admitted to avoiding family activities such as visiting Hong Kong Disneyland since they have to save for her daughters’ tuition fees.
“We don’t give [in to] the wants of our daughters but we explain to them,” said Tambot, who works in a resort in the region. “You can always find money but you can’t buy the moments spent on your children. It’s very important for a family to stay together,” she concluded.
The blue-card holders the Times interviewed also hoped that the government could also support them in several ways. The parents admitted that the high rental costs constitute a substantial amount to their expenses.
According to Libby Añover, there is a great need for non-skilled foreign workers to work hard for their living costs if they live with their family in the region, as Macau, unlike other countries, does not provide support to its foreign workers.
The parents noted that their primary school children, whose visas are attached to their current working visas, are studying in Chinese public schools and are paying MOP4,500 to MOP6,000 a year.
Meanwhile, Libby Añover explained that her employers had to help her to prepare her childrens’ visas with the assistance of a lawyer as their application was rejected the first time. Tambot said if it were not for her previous employer’s support, it is unlikely that her daughters’ visas would have been approved.
In contrast, another parent, Myrelle Saddi, said the reunion visa applications of her sons were rejected.
She explained that she applied for an attachment of her two sons’ visas to her working visa, as her husband is also working in the region. However, she said the immigration department denied their application because their monthly earnings were insufficient.
Saddi also shared her struggle in keeping their newborn baby in Macau, stressing that two of their relatives have been alternately coming to the region to help them take care of the infant since their work permit does not entitle them to have a “quota” to hire a helper.
“At least they should give the non-resident people [workers] a chance to be with their kids. Whether the baby was born here or not,” she explained.
Several parents who gave birth in the region find it problematic to care for their children in Macau, as it is impossible for them to legally hire a helper.
On an online platform for the Filipino community in Macau numerous parents are looking for people on tourist visas to help look after their children.
According to a parent who did not want to be identified, some would resort to hiring an overstay tourist to solve the problem. Lynzy Valles