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Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Home Opinion Op-Ed Columns International marriages: Visa prescription for domestic abuse?

International marriages: Visa prescription for domestic abuse?



NUMBER 666. The mark of the devil?

Superstition maybe.

But the gruesome story of a 24-year-old Filipina killed, then frozen by her 66-year-old husband in South Arlington, Texas last month seems to add up to 666: 2 + 4 = 6. Add the age of the husband and you have 666.

Okay, numerology aside, the tragic killing of Alyssa Marie Mejia Rogers, reportedly by Edward Rogers, Jr (who later killed himself), was followed by the death of another Filipina, also in Texas: 32-year-old Jacqueline Rose Nicholas also died at the hands of her spouse.

News agencies report that Jacqueline, a mother of two, was shot to death by her husband Peter Noble, 30. Noble was arrested after the incident and has been charged with murder.

In both cases, spousal abuse is the common factor.

At the time of writing, there is no information on whether Alyssa and Jacqueline had been petitioned or sponsored by their husbands and migrated to the US on a fiancée or spouse visas.

What is clear is that Filipinas being sponsored by their spouses or partners in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK or the US may have to make use of existing laws in each country on the options of getting out of an abusive relationship and awareness of the legal resource and social recourse available should they encounter spousal abuse – physical, psychological or sexual.

Protection mechanisms
In Australia, the “family violence provision” was introduced in 1994 providing a formal protection mechanism for partner visa applicants (and a limited number of other visas) whose relationships break down due to family violence perpetrated by their sponsors.

Official government statistics for the years 2013 to 2017 show that an average of 36,450 temporary partner visa applications were approved for female applicants yearly.

The same set of data indicates one in four women experience emotional abuse in Australia, which could mean approximately 9,000 women on temporary partner visas experience this kind of abuse annually. One in six Australian women experience physical violence at home, which means that potentially 6,000 women on temporary partner visas are physically abused each year as well.

Women’s Refuge, an advocacy group for abused spouses in New Zealand, confirms that “domestic violence… a major human rights issue across the world,” is now also “one of New Zealand’s most serious social issues.”

“One in three women in Aotearoa will experience some form of abuse within their relationship, with many more coming dangerously close; 50 percent of intimate partner violence (IPV) deaths occurred at the time of actual or intended separation; and 76% of recorded assaults against females are committed by an offender that is identified as family,” the group said.

And this year, NZ’s Ministry of Social Development published a fact sheet “Family Violence. It’s NOT Ok. It’s OK to Ask for Help.”

Canada, while welcoming of immigrants, also put spouses and partners being sponsored into Canada on notice.

The Public Health Agency of Canada issued its findings that “of all reported violent crime in 2016, more than one quarter (26 percent) resulted from family violence. Almost 67 percent of family violence victims were women and girls.”

The most common reason for under-reporting of this crime is the shame of reporting and the stigma that comes with it as well as the fear of retaliation by the abusive spouse and limited contacts outside of the family to confide in. This is most common among immigrant women who were sponsored without any dependents, especially young women with limited communication skills.

Statistics from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas show that from 1989 to 2017 more than 76 percent of Filipino spouses of foreign nationals were in the18 to 34 age brackets.

In the same period, the educational attainment of 165,471 of these foreign spouses were in the elementary level, elementary graduate and high school level, spouses whose ability to communicate and express themselves to the foreign spouses and more so to the authorities are severely limited – hence the under-reporting.

Immigration status and spousal violence
The spousal abuse phenomenon in these five countries with permanent migration programs resulted in the passage of laws aimed at protecting immigrant spouses and partners,

New Zealand’s “victims of domestic violence” policy “enables partners of New Zealand citizens or residents to seek residence on the basis of a relationship that has ended because of domestic violence. This policy applies to people who cannot return home because of the impacts of stigma, or because they would have no means of independent financial support from employment or other means.”

In addition, a special work visa is issued to abused spouses who subsequently may be able to pursue permanent residence category without the participation of the abusive spouse. The need to provide evidence that domestic violence occurred is another reason for under-reporting of spousal abuse as illustrated in the case of Filipino spouses with low educational attainment and limited ability to communicate in English coupled with the fear and threat of deportation.

Conditional residency for foreign spouses
In 1986, the US Congress passed the Immigration and Marriage Fraud Act to “deter immigration-related marriage fraud” by giving a foreign spouse a two-year conditional residency if an immigrant petition is filed for the foreign spouse within two years of marriage. The Act also created two visa categories for foreign spouses: the CR-1 and the IR-1. The CR-1 is issued to a spouse sponsored within two years of marriage, the IR-1 to spouses petitioned after two years of marriage.

To remove their conditional status the immigrant must apply at a US Citizenship and Immigration Services office during the 90-day period before their second anniversary of receiving conditional status. Failure to do so — especially without the participation of the US citizen spouse — renders the foreign spouse deportable. Subsequent tweaks to the law allow the foreign spouse to apply for removal of the conditional status without the consent of the US citizen spouse, especially if an abusive relationship perpetrated against the immigrant spouse is established.

On Oct. 25, 2012, Canada followed suit.

The Canadian government mandated conditional permanent residency for “sponsored spouses and partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who were in a relationship of two years or less and had no children in common, at the time of their sponsorship application.”

Since that time, official statistics show that more than 100,000 individuals have come to Canada as conditional permanent residents.

This conditional residency rule created “an imbalance between the sponsor and the sponsored individual, as only the sponsored spouse or partner could lose their status if the two-year cohabitation condition was not met.”

Acting to correct this “imbalance,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada assessed the impact of conditional permanent residence and determined that, on balance, using conditional permanent residence as a tool to deter marriage fraud had not proved to outweigh the potential risks to vulnerable sponsored spouses and partners.”

On April 28, 2017, the government of Canada removed this condition “to uphold its commitment to family reunification and to support gender equality.”

Yet, spousal abuse remains a pervasive problem. To encourage reporting of family violence or spousal abuse, the Canadian government set up various means to seek help. This is the official link for services set up by Canada’s Department of Justice — https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/help-aide.html

UK and Australia
Partners of a British citizen or person settled in the UK who have experienced domestic violence may be eligible for settlement (‘indefinite leave to remain’). These abused partners may get access to public funds under the category of “victim of domestic violence concession,” provided the relationship was genuinely entered into.

Down under, holders of temporary partner visa in family violence situations may still get a permanent resident visa without the usual two-year wait if the Australian spouse or partner committed spousal abuse against the foreign spouse or a dependent child, even if the relationship has ended.

The Australian government emphasizes that domestic or family violence is not tolerated. On March 7, 2019, the Department of Home Affairs issued a fact sheet stating that “people who are on a partner visa do not have to stay in an abusive relationship to stay in Australia.”

As a commitment against family violence, the DHA explains that anyone who knows someone who is in danger may call the police on 000. For free, confidential counseling and information, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. For a free interpreter, call 131 450.

Meanwhile, across the globe and south of Canada, the two-year conditional residency rule for alien spouses of US citizens remains.

For those planning to go as potential spouses or partners to these countries, it is best to really know your “super-hot” future partner or spouse.

Believing that your life is stuck on hold as the Philippines burns in a cauldron of corruption and official neglect, going abroad as a partner or spouse may be like jumping from the frying fan into the fire.

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Today’s Front Page January 22, 2020

Today’s Front Page January 22, 2020