Friday, March 16, 2007

Are You From Around Here?

In the US, immigration has come in and out of popularity as a hot political topic. My parents are US immigrants, and I’ve known international students who immigrated to the US. But I’ve never personally experienced it before. And although I know there is a difference between a citizen and a resident, I’ll admit to being ignorant to the practicalities - aside from voting. So coming to Singapore has given me a taste of that nuance.

If you are a citizen, you can open a bank account, sign up for a cell phone, and obtain a driver’s license, provided you have money and proof of address. As a resident, all those things apply, but you also require a personal recommendation of character in addition to your passport and green card. There’s an extra step or two in the process. And then, depending on the type of resident you may be, you might not be allowed to have any of those things after all. So you can live in the country, but you can’t do anything there.

It made me realize that while people can be unbiased, societies by definition are not. An individual can be open minded, but for society, the first and most fundamental question often is, “Are you one of us?”

If affirmative, just casually flash the ID card and you’re done. If negative...well, step over here sir, and let me ask about your passport, NRIC numbers, marriage license, recommendation of character, home address - not here, but where you’re from - why you are here, what you have on your person, etc.

It makes me appreciate the boldness and perseverance of those trying to establish themselves in a new country - not only expats but especially those in for the long haul.

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