Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Being undocumented in Holland.

Last night I followed a friend who had to interview an undocumented domestic worker living here. We met at a fairly inconspicuous cafe in town, and although I felt a bit nervous, I didn't know how much more scared she felt.

She stays anonymous here for obvious reasons, least of all for her privacy. She was born in the Philippines and worked in an electronics factory after college for a few years, before finding a job in Malaysia in another electronics factory. Since Malaysia only gives work permits that last 2 years, she found another job in a hotel and so worked in Malaysia for a total of 4 years.

It was at this job that she met a Dutch family, whom she befriended over the course of their stay, talking to them during dinner at the hotel restaurant. They asked her to work with them in Holland as a domestic worker. She waited in the Philippines for 10 months while waiting for her tourist visa to be approved.

She came to Holland in 1999 and worked with this family for a year, before moving on to another family. Now she works part-time as a domestic worker, doing household tasks in 2 or sometimes 3 houses a day, 6 days a week. Sunday is her only free day, and she goes to church or sometimes catches a film with her friends. Work dries up in the summer, when her employers go away for vacation. She has not seen her family (except over Skype) for the last 1o years and in her words, to see her daughter at age 23 come to Holland to work as an au pair, was "very strange."

In the last year or so, Holland has been cracking down on undocumented domestic workers like her. They join unions to try and get healthcare benefits because the Dutch need them and they do "decent work", but the government thinks there are too many workers to give work permits. Without a work permit, they cannot go home to visit their families, and cannot access public healthcare. However, their children can go to school here without papers.

She lives in fear now because neighbours will complain to the police if they notice a lot of foreigners coming in and out of an apartment, or if they make too much noise. Some have been caught while travelling in trams or cars, and after being detained for a few days they are deported to the Philippines. Some Filipinos who get papers from marrying a Dutch man can sometimes blow the whistle on undocumented ones out of spite.

She says that sacrifice this last 10 years was "worth it" because her children could afford to go to school and are now professionals - one works as a nurse and another as an engineer. She doesn't want to be deported because she can't come back, but she plans to go home for good if she can't get a work permit in the next two years.

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