Singapore to rein in immigration
By Kevin Brown in Singapore
Published: September 16 2009 16:35 | Last updated: September 16 2009 16:35
Singapore is to impose curbs on immigration amid fears of social friction between citizens and hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who have poured into the country over the past decade.
Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, said Singapore had taken in more than 100,000 foreign workers a year for several years as high economic growth burnished the lure of south-east Asia’s richest country.
“We will not continue to admit people at this pace,” Mr Lee said. “We know we cannot take in unlimited numbers of foreign workers.”
The announcement follows moves to restrict immigration in several other countries, including the US, Australia and the UK, which have sought to target migrants with in- demand skills.
However, the prime minister’s comments, made to a group of students on Tuesday night, appeared designed to soothe public concern at the surge in migrants rather than signal a clampdown.
Mr Lee gave no details of how immigration would be reduced, which groups of potential migrants might be targeted, or how big the cut in numbers might be. Officials said there were no plans beyond an intention to “moderate” the flow.
The prime minister said the government understood public concerns about the level of immigration, and promised to shore up the attractions of citizenship in response to claims it confers few useful benefits that are not available to permanent residents.
However, Mr Lee also said that a “sustained, calibrated inflow” of immigrants was the only way for Singapore to maintain its international competitiveness, adding “Singapore will need new immigrants for the indefinite future”.
The economic downturn has inevitably hit migrant workers hard. Here, reporters from the FT’s foreign bureaux investigate the plight of migrants from Poland and the US to Brazil and China, to see which groups are returning home and which are finding innovative ways to survive the downturn abroad.
About 3.2m of Singapore’s 4.8m people are citizens, according to the government statistical service’s 2008 estimates, with a further 478,000 living in the island state as permanent residents. About 1.2m foreign workers without permanent residency make up 25 per cent of the population.
This compares with just 312,000 foreign workers without permanent status in 1990, who then accounted for 10 per cent of a total population of just over 3m.
Permanent residents cannot vote, are not eligible for some benefits and tax concessions available to citizens, and cannot purchase subsidised government-built housing. However, they are not required to do two years’ national service, although their male children are.
Concern about the influx of foreigners – many of whom are relatively unskilled migrants from Indonesia and mainland China – has mounted as the economy has slowed in the face of the global financial crisis. The government is forecasting that the economy will contract by 4 to 6 per cent this year.
Contributors to one popular blogging site listed a range of complaints on Wednesday, including claims that foreigners had pushed up residential property prices. However, some also defended immigration as a means of accessing essential skills.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009.