Sunday, April 29, 2012

Six major flaws in PAP's immigration policy

The Temasek Times, April 29, 2012 (source)

Note: This article was first published in the old Temasek Review in March 2010

The twin issues of immigration and foreign workers have perpetually hogged the headlines since last year, an indication of how it has become a “national obsession” of Singaporeans.

Despite the ruling party’s fervent attempts to assuage rising resentment, frustration and anger on the ground, Singaporeans remain unconvinced by their reasoning that foreigners are “essential” to Singapore.

To be fair to the PAP, there is nothing fundamentally wrong in Singapore recruiting more foreigners to boost its declining birth rate – the root cause of the problem lies in the way the policies are implemented which takes into little consideration the possible long-term impact on the rest of the populace.

Three questions come to mind immediately:

1. Why do we need immigrants?
2. How many immigrants do we need?
3. Who are we targeting exactly?

The first question has been addressed many times by the PAP leaders and academics – being a small nation without any natural resources, human resource is our greatest asset.

Singapore’s birth rates has been declining to below the level needed to replace the population and if no measures are taken to rectify the situation, we will end up like Japan – an aging society with manifold repercussions for the nation.

Hence, we need immigrants to keep our population growing and to economy competitive.

Unfortunately, the PAP appeared to have implemented the policies too hastily under their ambitious plan to increase Singapore’s population to 6.5 million people while neglecting the other intangible consequences of immigration.

Six major flaws of the PAP’s immigration policies:

1. Too many, too soon:

Singapore has been accepting immigrants since the 1980s and 1990s from Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan without causing much discomfort to the local population.

This is because the immigrants have come in smaller numbers and are similar to Singaporeans in terms of culture, language and beliefs and have few problems assimilating into Singapore society.

The pace of immigration picked up when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong assumed office in 2003 and all of sudden the floodgates are opened to accept foreigners from all over the world especially China and India where the majority of the newcomers hail from.

In the span of less than 5 years, foreigners now make up 36 per cent of Singapore’s population, up from 14 per cent in 1990. Of the remaining 64 per cent who are citizens, a significant proportion are new immigrants born overseas.

Does Singapore really need to let so many foreigners into the country within such a short period of time?

In 2008 alone, there were over 90,000 PRs and 20,000 new citizens which is obviously stretching the nation’s infrastructure, such as public housing to accommodate all of them.

PM Lee now promised Singaporeans that the rate of immigration will be continued in a “measured and calibrated” manner. Is this a tacit admission that the uncontrolled influx of immigrants between the years 2003 – 2008 had been a mistake?

2. Inadequate infrastructure such as public housing to accommodate newcomers:

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that with so many foreigners flocking to study, work and live in Singapore, one needs to increase the number of public amenities and upgrade the infrastructure to accommodate them such as public housing.

According to HDB financial report 2008/2009, only slightly more than 11,000 new flats were built between the years 2006 – 2008 when there were over 90,000 PRs and 20,000 new citizens alone in 2008.

The lack of foresight on the part of HDB to plan beforehand to build more new flats to house the immigrants is appalling and its failure to do so has led to sky-rocketing HDB flat prices today.

Due to the lack of new flats, especially those in the prime districts, Singaporeans have to compete with PRs in the resale flats which resulted naturally in the rise of the prices of resale flats.

Public transport such as buses and MRTs are also poorly prepared for the increase in population as evidenced by the packed buses and trains every morning.

3. Targeting the wrong people:

Singapore should be targeting foreigners who can add value to Singapore and not open its doors indiscriminately to every Tom, Dick or Harry.

Mainland China is one important source of immigrants for Singapore, but we are not getting their cream of the crop.

According to a Gallup poll done in July 2009 among Chinese college students, their top emigration destination is the United States, followed by France and South Korea. Singapore isn’t even featured among the top five.

Why isn’t Singapore attracting the best Chinese talents? Instead of examining the cause, we settle for their “lesser talents”, many of whom are uncouth peasants from the poorer inland provinces.

What Singapore is getting are not first class talents but economic migrants who cannot survive in their own countries and they are now competing with Singaporeans for limited jobs because they cost much less.

China is vast country with 23 provinces and more than 1 billion people of various races and religions.

The ethnic Chinese in Singapore come mostly from the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian.

Singapore should be focusing on luring prospective migrants from these two provinces instead of allowing Chinese from all across the mainland to come here.

As they share the same dialect and culture as local Chinese, they will have fewer problems integrating into Singapore society as compared to Chinese from far-flung inland provinces who come from a completely alien world altogether.

4. Ease of getting PR and citizenship:

Unlike countries, getting a PR and citizenship in Singapore is incredibly easy without any major restrictions.

Most developed countries like Australia, Canada and U.K set an English proficiency test for immigrants and only those who pass the test are able to work and live there.

In Australia, one has to live there three out of a period of five years before they are eligible to become PRs.

However in Singapore, the newcomers are “fast-tracked” to become PRs and citizens without first familiarizing themselves with the country first and spending adequate time to make the decision.

A Chinese national and Singapore PR Zhang Yuanyuan who worked as a teacher in a private institution in Singapore revealed to the media that she became a PR within 2 months of application.

Even construction workers, cleaners, masseurs and prostitutes are able to lay their lands on a Singapore PR, the stepping stone for citizenship.

According to the Home Affairs Ministry, two out of every three PR applicants are successful, an astonishingly high success rate for a first world country.

Because citizenships are given out too soon to foreigners, there is insufficient time for both parties to assess if they are really “compatible” with each other.

5. Lack of a comprehensive plan to integrate the newcomers:

Due to the large number of unsuitable migrants who are given citizenships too soon, we now end up with the problem of having to integrate them.

Again, the ruling party did not come up with a comprehensive plan to integrate the newcomers when they embarked on their ambitious plan to increase Singapore’s population via immigration way back in 2003.

It is now very difficult to integrate those who are already in Singapore because they have come in such big numbers that they tend to congregate within their own communities than to reach out to the rest of Singapore.

We are already seeing ethnic “enclaves” emerging in different parts of Singapore such as the Chinese in Geylang, Indians in Punggol and Filipinos in Tampines.

Furthermore, as they share few similarities with the Chinese, Malays and Indians though they may be of the same race, it is near impossible to expect them to assimilate into our society any time soon.

As usual, the ruling party comes up with a grandiose $10 million Community Integration Fund to throw money at the problem.

How does organizing tea parties, community events and free language courses help to “integrate” the immigrants into Singapore is anybody’s guess when they should have done their homework first before opening the floodgates to immigration.

They will simply turn up for the free food and goodies before return to their own cliques as before – do you call this “integration”?

6. Neglect of native Singaporeans:

The key reason why many Singaporeans are so vehemently against the ruling party’s immigration policies is because they feel they are not getting a fair deal as citizens from the elected government of the day.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the government cannot “shield” Singaporeans from competition, but they are the ones who forced Singaporeans to compete with foreigners on unequal terms.

Firstly, the Singapore male is already disadvantaged by having to spend 4 weeks away from work annually due to reservist obligations.

Secondly, there is no way Singaporeans can compete with foreigners in terms of cost because they do not have a family here and they can easily support them back home with their meager pay earned in Singapore.

While in the past only extremely qualified professionals and blue collar workers in sectors shunned by Singaporeans are allowed into Singapore, we are now seeing an increasing number of semi-skilled foreigners on S-passes and these are the group of foreigners who are competing with locals for jobs and depressing their wages in the process.

To exacerbate the situation, there is a dearth of social welfare benefits for Singapore citizens who have to depend entirely on their CPF and medisave for retirement and medical expenses.

CPF is proving to be grossly inadequate to support Singaporeans through their twilight years and many have to continue working just to feed themselves and their families.

With so many grouses bottled up inside, it is only natural to expect Singaporeans to blame foreigners for their woes, whether rightly or wrongly.

Had the ruling party taken the necessary measures to ensure that Singaporeans are well taken care of first before they let the foreigners in, there will not be so much anger against them now.


Instead of focusing solely on the benefits of immigration, which is namely to sustain the population and economy, the government should look at the entire problem from a holistic perspective.

Immigration has its pros and cons. We must evaluate the potential problems bring about by uncontrolled immigration first before deciding on the number of immigrants to accept each year.

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