"Before I can get a good job, I have to become a citizen first. But I have to get a good job before I can qualify to be a Singaporean. It doesn’t make sense." — Miss Yuvethra Selvanaiyagam

Woman who has lived in S'pore all her life remains stateless

Born and raised here, woman's applications for S'pore citizenship have been repeatedly rejected

Her early life here was just like that of many other Singaporeans.

Miss Yuvethra Selvanaiyagam, 32, was born at the then Kandang Kerbau Hospital. She recited the pledge and sang the National Anthem every day of her schooling years.

But she is not Singaporean.

Her blue identity card, the same one issued to permanent residents (PRs), indicates that she is stateless.

That means the restaurant manager of a Sembawang bistro has no nationality and no passport.

Miss Yuvethra, whose father is Singaporean, has tried to change that status since she was in her early 20s.

Tearing up, she tells The New Paper on Sunday how she felt hope started to fade last year, after her fourth application to Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) was rejected.

She contacted TNPS after she read about MP Darryl David's call for cultural requirements in citizenship applications in his maiden parliamentary speech last month.

She believes she fulfils many of the requirements. "I feel as Singaporean as I can be."

In Singapore, stateless residents have the same privileges as PRs and are free to live, work, buy property and attend public school.

But to Miss Yuvethra, being stateless has become a brand of shame.

As a teen, she had her first taste of the challenges a stateless person faces. It also affected her relationships and her working life.

"Employers see the stateless label and think I'm a fugitive or an asylum seeker. Each time they ask about it, I have to slowly explain my family history," says the second of six children.

"The stateless label has cost me a lot of potential jobs."

Miss Yuvethra's youngest three siblings are Singaporeans while the other two are stateless just like her.

Their 51-year-old mother, Madam Selvarani Ramparsad, was rendered stateless as she was born during the tumultuous days of Singapore's merger and separation with Malaysia.

Madam Selvarani, a waitress, says: "Back then, being stateless was no big deal, unlike today where proper records are necessary."


Miss Yuvethra was technically born out of wedlock as her parents did not have a marriage certificate.

Madam Selvarani says: "In those days, only parents or legal guardians could sign the marriage certificate, but my parents were dead and my elder brother was not old enough."

She got her marriage certificate in 1988, when her brother turned 21. So only her three children born after that were recognised as Singaporeans.

Madam Selvarani says: "If I had known the trouble it would cause my children, I would have waited a few more years."

When she was five, Miss Yuvethra's father distanced himself from the family, leaving her mother to raise the children single-handledly.

At 15, against her mother's advice, Miss Yuvethra dropped out of school to work.

"We were not well off. The three of us without citizenship did not qualify for subsidised education. School fees were expensive," she says.

She first applied for citizenship after she turned 23.

After each ICA rejection, she would seek to improve herself by going for technical courses to hopefully improve her chances.

TNPS understands that economic requirements, such as financial stability, play a large factor in all citizenship applications.

An ICA spokesman says: "Any person who wishes to apply for Singapore citizenship, including those who are stateless, would have to satisfy prevailing eligibility requirements. Each application is carefully assessed on its own merits.

"Stateless persons who are permanent residents can enjoy the same benefits as other PRs in Singapore."

ICA declined to comment on the specifics of Miss Yuvethra's case due to confidentiality reasons.

For stateless persons, finding a good job before getting citizenship is a chicken-and-egg problem, says Miss Yuvethra.

She mostly got part-time or contractual jobs. She had to quit a pre-school teaching job when she could not take on a position in a Vietnam school.

Without a passport, stateless persons need a Certificate of Identity and a long letter to the destination country's embassy for a visa.

"I felt like a burden to the company and it was very embarrassing. Emotionally, it broke me," she says.

"I had dreams and ambitions, too. I wanted to be an aid worker in overseas humanitarian missions but I cannot travel."


She found her first full-time job as a restaurant manager early last year, thanks to an employer who was willing to see past her status.

When she turned to her MP for help, she was told by one of the volunteers that her chances would be better if she married a Singaporean.

It reminded her of a fight she had with her ex-fiancé, a foreign national who was successful in his citizenship application and held a high-earning position here.

He had joked that Miss Yuvethra could become a Singaporean through their marriage. The idea infuriated her.

"How is it that someone who came here to work can be a Singaporean while I cannot?

"Why must I marry for citizenship?"

Her last resort was to appeal to the Prime Minister's Office through Facebook, which did not work out.

"I have never thought I had to stoop to that," says Miss Yuvethra.

"I feel like an alien in my own homeland."