By Mat Baim

It was Thursday and I had a busy day.

I was sitting in the waiting room of the Visa Section of the Immigration Department, around 10 minutes past three in the afternoon, waiting patiently for my application for a single entry visa for our domestic helper, commonly known as an “amah”, to be processed.

The Visa Section, on the second floor of the Immigration Building, adjoined with another bigger section of the Immigration Department that dealt with employment of foreign workers by companies in the private sector. Employment of foreign workers by ministries and departments of the government, and foreign workers employed in private homes such as domestic helpers, drivers and gardeners, were dealt with in a separate room on the same floor.

The waiting room for the two sections was huge. It was packed with people with many sitting and others milling around.

At the Visa Section I had a hard time figuring out where the queue line started. Everybody seemed to be clamouring at the nearer end of a long counter which has a Perspex panel to separate the three officials at the counter and the members of the public all wanting to be served. But at that end, there was an opening of the panel about 30 inches wide to allow members of the public to see the lady official behind the counter. There was a plastic chair placed in front of the opening to allow any person to sit face to face with the lady official.

There was already a woman sitting on the chair. But where was the queue’s starting point? There were about five other people, including three Pakistanis, standing around the opening but they seemed to be just chatting.

I stood behind the chair in order to be next one to be served. The woman left after her transactions were completed. But to my surprise, another women sat on the chair before I could even move!

The woman was an ‘agent’ who knew the ropes of the department. I again stood waiting for my turn.

The lady behind the counter must have taken pity on me as I had been to the Visa Section the day before for the same purpose. She told me the service for visa application had closed. I had come at around four in the afternoon, whilst the closing time was at half past three.

She asked me what I was there for.

I told her I wanted to apply for an entry visa for my amah who will be taking a trip home at the end of her contract at the end of the month. I handed over the relevant documents. She asked if I wanted a multi-entry. I told her “single entry”.

She asked when the amah would be coming back. I replied “within two or three months”.

“That will be 20 dollars,” she said of the cost of the visa. After handing over to her two 10 dollar notes, she told me to sit and wait.

In essence, I was jumping the queue! But I saw it as fair because the lady ‘agent’ had jumped into the chair ahead of me!

As I was sitting I recalled I started employing an amah in the early 70s when my wife and I stayed at one of the flats at Anggerek Desa. The “amah” was actually staying with her sister who was married to a local. So we hired her on that visit pass. I never knew I needed an employment pass to enable her to work and stay with us. Before the visit pass expired, I would apply to the Immigration Department for renewal of the pass for another three months. So the domestic helper worked for us about a year on her visit pass!

By then I came to know of the employment pass and finally got a labour quota for a domestic helper from the Labour Department.

One cannot apply to the Immigration Department to recruit an amah unless one has a labour quota from the Labour Department.

Initially I got the worker by going to an agent. At that time, anyone can be an agent so long as he has the knowledge of what was to be done, and the connection of getting the foreign workers. I remembered one agent charged me $700 for his service.

When I knew the ropes, I recruited the worker myself. Actually I would recruit a new worker by enquiring from the amah who would be leaving if she knew of anyone from her village who would like to work for us.

Later I would receive a photocopy of the particulars and the passport of the new would-be worker. Those documents together with the labour quota would enable me to apply for an employment pass from the Immigration Department.

I would send a copy of the pass to the worker to enable her to apply for an entry visa at the nearest Brunei High Commission. A day or two after arrival, I would take the worker for a blood test and an X-ray to check for his/her health conditions. I would then get insurance coverage for the worker.

With the health clearance, insurance coverage and other documents I would draw up a contract with the worker, signed in front of an official of the Labour Department after which I would go to the Immigration Department to apply for an employment pass. With the employment pass the worker would officially become my employee.

So there was I waiting for the single entry visa for my amah.

My name was called by the lady at the counter.

The counter lady handed over my amah’s passport and some other documents. I thanked her and dropped the application form into the tray in front of her and left.

I glanced at a notice which read “Working Hours”;

Morning 7.30 – 11.30

Afternoon 1.30 – 4. 00

I didn’t know if it referred to those working with the Immigration, or the Labour Department, or both! The notice meant that the working hours were less than the normal working hours for the rest of government officers.