Working illegally

‘I did it so my children could have a better life’

National  
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They clean, cook and look after the elderly and children. But their work is not recognised and they live in constant fear of being arrested. This is the story of a domestic worker from Ecuador who worked illegally as a cleaner for a decade.

Nelly Valencia came to Switzerland in 1999, when Ecuador was in the midst of an economic and social crisis. When she discovered in 2001 that her three sons (aged 12, seven, and two) were being mistreated by their foster family in Quito, she brought them to Switzerland.

After being stopped by the police in 2003, Valencia made an application to legalise her status. The authorities in canton Vaud were satisfied that her case met requirements set by the federal authorities, which were responsible for the decision.

But things turned out differently: Valenica received an order to leave the country. However she did not give up and decided to appeal, with the help of the Protestant Social Centre in canton Vaud.

In 2010 the Federal Office for Migration was instructed by the Federal Administrative Court to review the case. The Valencia family was granted humanitarian permission to remain in Switzerland, an exception reserved for hardship cases.

In Switzerland an estimated 40,000 people work as domestic staff, 90 per cent of them women, without residence or work permits.

(Patricia Islas and Thomas Kern, swissinfo.ch)

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