What made Singapore special and successful in the past was its people and culture, now so diluted and changed by foreigners that Singapore is no longer Singaporean, just another crowded Asian city
[WSJ Article first appeared on http://blogs.wsj.com/searealtime/2013/01/29/singapore-likes-a-crowd/]
Singapore’s government has projected that the tiny city-state’s population of 5.3 million – about the size of metropolitan Miami – will reach 6.9 million by 2030, almost half of which will be made up of foreigners as the citizen population continues to shrink with declining birth rates and an aging population.
Population growth, the government says, will help achieve gross domestic product growth of about 3-to-4% yearly up till 2020, and growth of about 2-to- 3% for the decade after that. In the more immediate term, Singapore’s population is expected to climb to about 6 million in the next seven years, a number that, according to government projections, will ensure the city-state’s workforce expands enough to meet ideal economic growth rates.
These projected numbers and the government’s rational behind its immigration and population policies were sketched out on Tuesday in a white paper by the National Population and Talent Division, a governmental body under Singapore’s deputy prime minister, Teo Chee Hean.
The issue of population – particularly the city-state’s reliance on a large foreign workforce to complement its dwindling number of citizens – has for years been a delicate political issue in Singapore. Disaffection towards the longtime ruling People’s Action Party – the only party in power since the young city-state’s independence in the 1960s – was further proved by its loss in a by-election over the weekend, which boosted opposition representation in parliament to a small but unprecedented seven out of 87 seats. Rising housing and transportation costs, seen as a direct result of more people in the already-crowded state, are among the core reasons for this unhappiness, and the government has been under increasing pressure to cut its dependence on foreign labor.
“We must rely less on foreign labor, use our resources better, and redouble efforts to improve productivity,” said the National Population and Talent Division’s report, adding that would be “the only sustainable way to grow the economy and raise real wages.”
The report, though, still adds a caveat that foreign workers must complement the local workforce, particularly since the government does not expect an improvement in Singapore’s fertility rate in the short term. In 2012, a Singaporean woman on average was having 1.3 children, way below the replacement rate of 2.1. The project population of 6.9 million by 2030 would have a citizen population of between 3.6 and 3.8 million, slightly more than half of the total resident population.
Analysts predict that this will mean a significant drop in the number of foreigners Singapore admits on a yearly basis. That percentage has grown by staggering numbers over the past two decades. In 1980, Singaporean citizens made up 91% of the population, but in 2011 only made up 63% of the population.
Growth in the foreign population, which has been rising by about 7% annually even since 2011 – when disaffection against immigration was already high – will have to drop to 2.6 – 2.7% every year, according to Michael Wan, a Singapore-based analyst at Credit Suisse, for the government’s projected population figures to add up, with a citizen population still comprising more than half of the total population. The white paper states the government will “continue to welcome immigrants who can contribute to Singapore.” The paper highlighted that 40% of Singaporean marriages each year happen between a Singaporean and a non-Singaporean, and the government will focus especially on attracting young immigrants who could potentially take up permanent residence and eventually citizenship in the city-state.
The anticipated foreign worker curbs – which will follow from moves over the past year to tighten certain categories of work permits for non-Singaporeans – will surprise some businesses “that have no made the necessary adjustments to survive in the country’s high-cost environment, and will find it increasingly difficult to compete,” said Mr. Wan. “[Companies] might choose to relocate or throw in the towel completely.”
As other Southeast Asian nations become more economically competitive – and stay significantly cheaper than Singapore – the government has had to grapple with some smaller companies moving out their headquarters to places like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur where rental rates and accommodation cost much less. Singapore is listed by multiple surveys as one of the most expensive cities in Asia, though also as one of the best to do business in.
Still, for some Singaporeans, the prospect of further crowding in the small city-state is upsetting.
“I don’t understand how they expect to fit any more people in this place,” said Aida Johari, a 22-year old Singaporean student. “Taking the trains is a nightmare. Buses are too full. They need to find a way to make things cheaper and better here, or we will all just leave.”
* Re-published with consent from The Wall Street Journal.--
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