Saturday, 13 March 2004


DISCRIMINATION. Last week I attended a seminar held by a leading UK law firm on the subject of new European Union legislation governing the issue of discrimination in the workplace.

The stricter laws, coming into effect from 2004-2006, tighten the already stringent anti-discrimination measures in place today, and would place Europe closer to the United States, which is currently ahead in protecting the rights of its minority and disadvantaged groups.

Along with disallowing employment selection based on nationality, race, religion or gender—the new laws also seek to do away with what is today still a common criterion for screening out applications—age.

From 2006 when these laws finally take effect, it may not be uncommon for us to see 50-year-old flight attendants, along with lady bus drivers and openly homosexual combat soldiers. The conduct of colleagues at work will be curtailed to exclude even the common green jokes that are today the main feature of water-cooler breaks in most offices.

Europe and the rest of the West, at least on paper, are preparing for what it sees as a “color, race, nationality, gender, age and disability” neutral society.

The intentions are admirable, but the realities are far from the stated intentions. The gaps are apparent in their policies toward immigration.

VISA DENIED. Take the recent case of my wife’s sister-in-law, who applied for a visa to visit her sister in Canada.

A mother of four, she is a qualified nurse who has not practiced her profession for some time, to devote herself to taking care of her young family.

Their circumstances are by no means meager—my brother-in-law is a fairly successful agri-businessman, and she has no intention of leaving for Canada as an economic migrant. But did the immigration authorities share the same view? No chance.

Without so much as giving her a minute to explain the purpose of her visit, her own economic and family circumstances, and her intention to return, the consular officer immediately denied her application.

The reason? She has “no compelling reason” to come back to the Philippines, and from all indications, would stay on and practice her profession in Canada.

Had she been of European origin, the outcome would surely have been different.

Canada is not alone in this clearly discriminatory method of granting visitation rights to their countries. The United States and the European Union are equally guilty of denying visitor applications on the mere suspicion that someone may have a reason—however improbable—of staying on beyond the allowed period.

All this while they are enacting laws to end all forms of discrimination in their borders, similar to the proposals discussed in the seminar I attended.

The reasons behind their draconian immigration policies are clear—no country wants to be burdened by masses of immigrants taking work away from their own nationals. And because permission to visit a country is a privilege that is up to a state to grant or deny, no laws are broken by their strict policies.

But these same policies appear to create a two-faced image of the West to the world.

For how can a country that promises to look beyond race, color, ethnic origin, religion and gender, in the same breath turn away well-intentioned visitors to their countries, just because based on the same characteristics they promise not to discriminate against, there is some probability that they may stay on?

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, March 13, 2004 (

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