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Impossible to determine if fewer foreigners were accepted

Fewer Permanent Resident and Citizenship applications went through in the past year due to more stringent requirements.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Law, Ho Peng Kee, said eligibility rules were tightened in the last quarter of 2009 to manage overall numbers.

Some 46,300 Permanent Residents were approved between April last year to March this year, out of 124,600 applications. Another 19,300 Singapore Citizenships went through, out of 24,000 applications.

"Fewer PR & Citizenship applications approved in past year" (Channel NewsAsia, May 18)

To the best of my knowledge, I believe this is the first time ever that statistics on new permanent residents (PR) and new citizens are being disclosed from April to March, instead of on a calendar year basis.

The number of new PRs for 2008 and 2009 was about 80,000 and 60,000 respectively.

The figures for new citizens for the same periods were about 20,000 for each year.

I believe this is the first time ever, success rate of applications is being disclosed.

In order to get a more complete picture on the statistics, what we need to know the following:

  • How many new PRs and new citizens were approved out of how many applications in the last two years? - This will tell us how the pattern of the success rate of applications has changed.
  • How many of the new citizens were from those who applied directly as foreigners or as PRs? - Without this data for the last two and a quarter years, it may not be possible to tell exactly the extent to which (and whether) the total figures for PRs and citizens combined, declined or increased.  As an example, if most new citizens in the latest period were direct applicants from foreigners, and most of them in the previous periods were from PRs, then the total increase may actually appear to be less than the actual absolute figure.
  • What is the break-down for the different periods in respect of how many were workers and how many were dependents? - For example, there may have been more workers relative to dependants.

There have also been media reports about the criteria for dependants being tightened, even to the extent that the category for elderly foreign dependants being discontinued.

In this regard, it is impossible to comprehend the fuller picture without statistics on PRs and new citizens who have left Singapore. Why? Because if less are leaving, then the absolute total increase to the resident population may actually be more significant. The very important statistic on the number of foreigners being given passes of up to one year to stay in Singapore to look for a job, was glaringly missed.

Also missing were the statistics on foreign students studying in Singapore, as well as foreign students studying overseas. How many were allowed to work in Singapore under the internship schemes, which are exempted from the Minister of Manpower's (MOM) work pass and foreign worker quota requirements?

Without the above statistics, it is rather difficult to have a complete picture of non Singapore-born demographics and employment in Singapore. Since the number of new citizens has remained about the same, at about 20,000, for all the three 12-month periods in question, were the requirements really more stringent?

With regards to "eligibility rules were tightened in the last quarter of 2009 to manage overall numbers", since Singapore was going through one of its worst recession from September 2008 to around September 2009, it begs being asked “why did it take so long (the last quarter) to tighten criteria?”

According to Channel NewsAsia, Associate Professor Ho also said:

"There would be applicants who may not meet our new criteria and who no longer qualify for PR or citizenship.

"Others, even though they meet the new criteria, may take a longer time before they are granted PR, or citizenship, as the residency requirements have been stretched out in the new framework."

Those who do not yet qualify can apply for Long Term Visit Passes to remain in Singapore.

In the same period, authorities received over 70,300 applications for Long Term Visit Passes. About 80 per cent of them or 56,300 were approved."

In this regard, we also need to know the number of Long Term Visit Passes applied and approved in 2008 and 2009, for without it, it may be impossible to determine if the Long Term Visit Pass holders made up for (or surpassed) the lesser PR applicants accepted. Instead of just saying that the criteria has been tightened, it may also be helpful to disclose what the criteria is now, compared to less stringent criteria of the past.

Another report on the same topic by Today highlights why disclosure and transparency of criteria are important. The Today article, “Longer wait, harder to get PR or citizenship” (Today, May 19), says:

As for foreign spouses of Singaporeans, the ICA processed an annual average of 15,400 long term visit passes and 9,900 PR applications from them between 2005 and 2009. Of these, 2,200 and 4,500 respectively were successful”.

What this means is that the success rate of applications (for foreign spouses of Singaporeans) was only about 14 and 45 per cent for long term visit passes and PRs, respectively.

Which means that on the average about a whopping 66,000 (15,400 applcations minus 2,200 approvals times 5 years) Singaporeans who married foreign spouses were denied permission for their spouses to stay in Singapore under long term visit passes, and about another 27,000 (9,900 applications minus 4,500 approvals times 5 years) were denied permanent residency, over the last five years.

Can you imagine the tremendous emotional and financial stress that these 93,000 (66,000 plus 27,000) Singaporeans must be facing with their spouses and possibly children being denied the right to live in Singapore? Now that the economy is recovering, quarterly statistics are more needed than not ad-hoc ones. Giving statistics on a piecemeal basis makes it almost impossible for stakeholders and third parties to do any independent analysis or draw conclusions.

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By Leong Sze Hian

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