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Leaving? Get the Papers Right!

Tips from a Swiss-Filipina Counselor
Interviewed by L. C. Fen

I met Anny Misa-Hefti while working on our book about Filipino migrants, Bending without Breaking: Thirteen Women’s Stories of Migration and Resilience.
She is a Counseling Psychologist and, before retiring, worked at the Counseling Center for Foreign Women in Bern, Switzerland. She also worked at the Integration Center for Migrants there. She was the perfect resource person to teach us about the importance of arranging the right documents when moving abroad. Below, get to know our featured psychologist and the tips she has to share with us.

Q: Hi Anny! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up becoming a migrant?

I have been a “migrant” since I was sixteen years of age. I moved from Cebu to live in a dorm in Quezon City—that meant being away from home ten months out of a year while I was in college. I went home only during major holidays. I worked in Dumaguete after graduation then went on to graduate school in California. I married a Swiss man and have lived in Switzerland since.

Q: Any tips for first-time visa applicants?

In my work, I have encountered various cases of TNT, tago ng tago. These undocumented migrants live in constant fear of being apprehended. They are not free. They are also prone to exploitation. It is a hard life.
Leaving our familial security can be scary. That makes it all the more important to prepare for this giant step properly. If you know where you are going, then do:
Inform yourself about the target country as much as you can.
Get language basics of this country (try a language book from the bookstore).
Ask for contacts in that country from friends. Get at least one address of someone living there who knows you are also there.

Q: Why do it the right way and apply for legitimate paperwork?

Authentic, legal documents are of dire importance—a priority. When Filipino citizens have problems and are undocumented, the Philippine Embassy cannot help them. In rare cases the embassy steps in, they can only do so in a limited capacity. When it comes to your VISA, figure out what you need. Ask yourself: How long are you allowed to stay? What expenses will you incur?

Q: Any cautionary tales you’ve encountered as a counselor that could help our readers?

One case on my desk was Maria,* who was married to a Swiss citizen. After two years, the relationship soured. The husband wanted to send her back to the Philippines On her passport, the purpose of her stay was officially “Zweck des Aufenthalts” – Verbleib beim Ehemann (Stay with Husband).

This meant she was totally dependent on the decision of her partner. She would have needed at least five years of marriage to apply for an independent-staying permit. Maria wanted to go “underground” or stay illegally. But the husband would not support her stay and reported her to the embassy. Two officials from the Philippine consulate accompanied her to the airport to make sure she left. She did leave willingly, allowing her to apply for future visas.

Another case involved one Filipino who had entered Switzerland
illegally from Spain. He managed to work in one of the local restaurants. One afternoon, Swiss immigration checked the restaurant’s employees— passports and all. John* had an expired passport and no working visa for Switzerland. He was behind bars until he could be deported. He would have to wait another five years before he could apply to enter the region again.

Final thoughts from FAVE
Many Filipinos in Europe who do not have proper documents are forced to work below the market rate and may be taken advantage of by employers. They are forced to live in tight quarters with steep rent, and enjoy less rights next to the Filipino who has legitimate documents.
Having the right paperwork can benefit you in many ways—lending you protection when needed, while working and living in a foreign country.
Experience life in Europe and secure your Schengen Visa in Manila, with FAVE Assist ready to share Visa tips for Filipinos.
Anything is possible once you obtain a Schengen Visa. Contact us and Book your FREE consultation today.
*Names have been changed for privacy. **See Al-Jazeera’s “Exploited: Filipino Workers in Geneva.”
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