It is challenging for a migrant to maintain self-respect and self-appreciation when various political or cultural structures fail to recognize the worth of the “Other”. The notion of the “Other” has been prolonged analyzed in the field of sociology, with Edward Said using this terminology in 1978, to explain how the “ideal” West depicts and treats the distant “Orient Other”. The financial and labor exploitation of the “Other” is still relevant today in many Western societies. This article aims to shine a light on the reality of immigrants due to financial considerations in Cyprus, more specifically of domestic workers, and analyze the different structures that welcome and regulate the lives of domestic workers on the island, giving considerate emphasis on the right to family reunification.
Emigration due to financial considerations in Cyprus takes place most commonly in the form of domestic workers, employed in private households. In most cases, foreign domestic workers (FDW) are women who come from third countries, migrating autonomously due to exceptionally difficult financial conditions. The main nationalities comprising FDW in Cyprus are Filipino, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Indian and Vietnamese and amount up to 98% of all FDW, according to data provided by the Civil Registry and Migration Department in July 2019 (the data were provided upon request for a Report). The living conditions of FDW in European countries have been extensively discussed by international literature and concerns regarding the Cypriot context have been expressed by Cypriot academics and NGOs.
The Report on the Status of FDW in Cyprus, prepared in cooperation with the Cyprus Commissioner for Administration and the Protection of Human Rights (Ombudsman) Mrs. Maria Stylianou-Lottides, highlights the different challenges that FDW face and the deficiencies of the current institutional framework that regulates their rights. The vulnerability of this group stems from various factors, starting with the prevalence of their migrant status over their employment status.
To explain further, all immigrant workers in Cyprus are the concern of the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance. Yet, FDW are assigned treatment under the Civil Registry and Migration Department of the Ministry of the Interior. When a media discussion opened around this distinction, relevant officials commented that FDW do not really influence the employment sphere. Ultimately, in 2010 the Council of Ministers expressed their intention of shifting the responsibility of FDW to the Ministry of Labour, as is the case for all immigrant workers employed on the island. Years later, no such decision has been implemented. While some can argue that the question of which authority is responsible for FDW does not substantially affect the living conditions and treatment of the group, the underlying logic of this decision is aligned to the mentality of the Cyprus society; that FDW do not enjoy the benefits of protection but rather the burdens of control.
Further factors that contribute to the vulnerable status of FDW are linked to the mindset of modern times, the one that suggests the superiority of the employee over the employer. The case of FDW is special, since they are employed in private households. Even if they have an employment contract that regulates their rights, a private household as a workplace is extremely hard to regulate. To offer an example, the new standard employment contract for FDW, as drafted and circulated in 2019 by the Migration Department, provides that FDW “shall work 6 days per week for 7 hours a day”. This provision amounts to 42 working hours per week. As per the results of the Report, the FDW that participated in the research work on average 58 hours per week, an amount considerably longer than contractually agreed. Additional factors include the gender of FDW (since the vast majority of FDW in the country are women), the very low remuneration they receive for their services, and the various obstacles to their socialization (among them the long working hours and language barriers).
Not only are FDW afforded different treatment and are deprived of specific employment rights in the RoC, but the law also intervenes further to their personal rights as it regulates their right to family reunification to unacceptable lengths. Whereas the legal framework and its treatment of FDW are deemed harsh and unreasonable, the regulations on the right to the reunification of FDW with their family and children are cruel to the emotional health of both FDW and the children that they left behind. There are serious limitations to the right of private and family life, deriving both from the aforementioned employer’s expectations and most importantly from the rule of the law. A specific provision banns automatically all FDW from obtaining permanent residency in the RoC. Typically, the law requires for a stay longer than 5 years in the country for one to have the right to apply for a permanent residency application. In numerous cases, FDW live on the island for a period longer than 5 years, since their contracts last for 4-6 years, with an option for extension on the agreement of both employer and employee. Whereas FDW meet the length of stay requirement, they do not afford the right to apply for permanent residency since their applications will be automatically rejected.
Contrary to EU legislation, by holding an FDW visa you are automatically prevented from acquiring permanent residency, a decision upheld in 2008 by the Cyprus Supreme Court and later criticized by the Court of Justice, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. This provision is crucial since an individual is deprived of their right to family reunification if there are no reasonable prospects of obtaining permanent residency in the country. This means that FDW who are commonly assigned to taking care of the Cypriot families, do not have the right to enjoy the company of their own families. The only option of seeing their families is doing it at their own personal expense, which is in turn hard or even impossible, considering the meager remuneration they receive.
We must keep in mind that the majority of these women are mothers; mothers who left behind their children. When State structures are unable or unwilling to accommodate the needs of these mothers, let alone the needs of their children, it comes down to bottom-up, grassroot initiatives to create an environment where mothers, fathers, and children can re-connect, even virtually, and feel safe to share moments, experiences and feelings. Our project, No Left-Behind Children, responds to the long-neglected needs of separated families, in a collaborative effort to enhance and bring together state institutions, parental educators, social workers, and last but not least, the families affected by migration.
-  Cresencia Cabotaje Motilla v. the Republic of Cyprus through the minister of the interior and the chief immigration officer (RoC Supreme Court, Case no. 673/2006, 21 Jan 2008