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There is unprecedented stress placed on Singapore society. Ng E-Jay.

A nation of foreigners in 11 years

Ng E-Jay / Current Affairs Desk

Half of Singapore's population could consists of foreigners in 11 years time, if the government continues its current plan of attracting foreigners to feed its "growth-at-all-cost" economic model. This, couple with the low birth rate among locals, may result in unprecedented stress on our social fabric.

THE NATIONAL Population Secretariat announced on Wednesday that Singapore's total population grew to 4.84 million in 2008, with the proportion of foreigners increasing to 25 percent.

Noting the challenges faced by families during the current downturn, the Secretariat reiterated the need to encourage marriage and parenthood, attract foreigners, and foster naturalisation and integration of new immigrants.

(Photo: Is it time for the government to stem the flood of foreign workers coming into the country? Courtesy of Wong Jun Hao / Creative Commons)

The challenges faced by Singapore in integrating foreigners into the local community is by no means unique, but the fact remains that the large influx of foreigners in recent years have the potential to cause many social problems. Foreigners have been blamed for depressing wages and making it harder for citizens to secure employment -- factors that are exacerbated during an economic crisis.

Undercurrents of resentment against foreigners have also surfaced from time to time, the most recent example being the emotional uproar during the National Inter-School 'A' division badminton finals where one of the Junior Colleges fielded teams comprising mainly foreign students.

If the growth in the number of foreigners continues on its present trajectory, the proportion of foreigners in our midst will continue to grow every year, and might hit one-third of the total population when the Government achieves the target population of 6 million.

Assuming that there is no limit placed on population growth and policies remain the same, in slightly over a decade, foreigners could account for half our population. This would spell dire consequences for our social fabric and national identity.

Statistics paint a bleak picture

According to the statistics released by the National Population Secretariat from 2007 to 2008, the total population increased by 5.5% to 4.84 million. In 2008, foreigners accounted for 25% of the population, or around 1.21 million people. This means that Singaporeans and permanent residents numbered around 3.63 million in 2008.

It was also revealed that roughly 100,000 new citizens and PRs were added in the period 2007 to 2008. This implies that the number of Singapore citizens and PRs grew from 3.53 million to 3.63 million during this period -- a growth rate of approximately 3%. By contrast, the number of foreigners (total population minus citizens minus PRs) grew from 1.06 million to 1.21 million in the same time interval -- a growth rate of approximately 14%. The number of foreigners is increasing at a much faster rate than that of citizens and PRs.

If the respective rates of growth of both groups (citizens and PRs, versus foreigners) continue unchanged, Singapore's total population will exceed 6 million in a mere 4 years. By the end of the 4 years however, the proportion of foreigners in our midst would have grown to roughly one third. Neglecting any limits of population size, if the increase in the number of foreigners continues to outstrip that of citizens and PRs by the same amount, then within 11 years, more than half the population would be foreigners.

In other words, if the current immigration policies of the Government are maintained indefinitely, we would in time become a nation of foreigners.

Social Integration

In April this year, a National Integration Council chaired by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, was established with the purpose of fostering social integration amongst existing Singaporeans and newly minted permanent residents and citizens.

Initiatives spearheaded by the Council include conducting outreach programmes for PRs and new citizens, and encouraging them to participate in grassrooots activities and take on leadership roles. Of course, from here, the new citizens and PRs would be just one step away from becoming politicized and inducted into the machinery of the ruling party.

Getting new residents to participate actively in community projects and events is a good way of exposing them to our way of life and a good chance for us to also to learn about their culture. But the social integration initiatives must go beyond merely encouraging the new residents to become active citizens.

The social impact of a sudden influx of a large number of foreigners to the local community must also be addressed. In light of the current recession, we also need to seriously rethink our economic strategies and examine whether they are sustainable over the long run.

If the Government is truly serious about promoting social integration and preserving social harmony, it must address its “growth-at-all-cost” model of economic management, as well as its pro-foreigner policies which are currently taken to the extreme.

What is needed is:

1) A more sustainable model of economic management that recognizes the long term limitations of our nation’s growth rate,
2) a more controlled rate of import of foreigners and more careful selection of the quality of foreign manpower we are importing,
3) a more comprehensive social safety net for the needy, elderly and sick,
4) independent labour unions that genuinely seek to protect the rights of Singaporean workers, and
5) a “Singaporeans first” policy that gives due recognition and assistance to National Servicemen who have had their studies and careers disrupted due to National Service, and policies to ensure they are not being discriminated against in the workplace.

Sins of the Past

The current population problems we are facing can be traced back to the disastrous "Stop at Two" policy that was introduced in the early 1970s. At that time, even some liberal NGOs like the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association (SPPA) were used by the Government to spread their “Two is Enough” propaganda, which unfortunately was bought wholesale by Singaporeans. When they tried to reverse the trend upon realising that it had been a mistake, the damage had already been done.

In order for a society to maintain itself socially and economically over the long haul, the required fertility rate is 2.11 children per family. A society will decline if its fertility rate is less than that.

Historically however, no society has reversed a fertility rate below 1.9. In Singapore's case, where our fertility rate is a mere 1.3, the situation is practically intractible. That is why the Government is trying to welcome foreigners into Singapore, to artificially boost the falling birth rate. But the consequences for the social fabric of our nation can be deep and longlasting.

With contributions from Choo Zheng Xi, Leong Sze Hian, and Ravi Philemon.