Immigration – still an issue, 12 years on

TOC Note: Singaporeans’ concerns about the PAP’s immigration policy is not new. Indeed, it goes way back to 1998, as in the following Parliamentary speech by Dr Tan Boon Wan which, as it turned out, was quite a prescient one. The concerns he raised are exactly what Singaporeans feel today.

The question we should be asking is thus: Is the PAP serious in addressing these concerns? If it is, why is it that 12 years after Members of Parliament raised these issues, the concerns seem to have deepened and indeed, the situation gotten worse? Or is it simply that the PAP government has no clue in how to address this?

The following article is by Chua Suntong

On 12 Sep 2010, the mainstream newspaper the Straits Times Sunday Edition published a substantial report on the immigration problem in Singapore. The first part of the report was about a forum which took place the previous day where the immigration policy of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) was the main topic. This forum was organized by the Sikh Youth Association and Deputy Prime Minister Mr Teo Chee Hean was the main speaker.

On the PAP regime’s immigration policy, Mr Teo urged the forum attendees to view things in perspective. Perspective in this context meant understanding the immigration policy in a wider scope.  His explanation was in response to a prolonged wave of criticism since the Asian financial crisis of 1997 on the massive immigration influx. Part of the criticism had become emotional and communal-oriented.

Within the PAP, there was an example of a good MPs expressing the immigration problem in perspective.  Perhaps we can consider a section of this speech made by Dr Tan Boon Wan, a Member of Parliament of Ang Mo Kio Group Representative Constituency on 16 March 1998.  The context was the 1998 Budget Debate.

…Sir (The Speaker of Parliament), foreign talents have contributed to the leadership and manpower that have developed Singapore. Our policy is to open Singapore to foreign talents is a correct one. Their contributions will continue to be important. However, we are not without local talents, but our people fear being overlooked or ignored. They want to be considered for opportunities that arise.

Singaporeans want to be assured that when everything is equal or near equal, they will be given preference. We should use our own talents first and then turn to foreign talents to augment the pie. This must be so. Otherwise, our people will feel disenfranchised and being a citizen of a country must mean something.

Sir, employers must not view the foreign talent policy as a license to hire foreign talents when local talents are available to do the job. This should be made clear to employers, especially our Government Ministries, departments, statutory boards, and Government-linked companies. We must not make our people feel second class. If our people feel this way, we will find our own talents moving overseas in search of opportunities denied to them in their own country. This will indeed be a sad day for Singapore.

Foreign talent to augment our talents in Singapore is an important policy. But for the policy to work, we must make sure that Singaporeans accept that as important. I think if we can assure Singaporeans that their interests are taken care of, that they will not be denied opportunities, then the support will be forthcoming….”


The second part of the Straits Times report was a news analysis on various viewpoints. At an earlier forum, Senior Minister (SM) Goh Chok Tong talked about converting 50,000 of the existing 500,000 permanent residents (PRs) into citizens. A PAP backbencher MP Mr Hri Kumar said the ground sentiment was not about existing citizens wanting more PRs to take up citizenship. Instead, citizens felt the PAP regime should be more judicious about giving out or approving Permanent Residency.

While some PAP backbenchers had mentioned the problem of crowding out effects caused by immigration, SM Goh and other cabinet ministers saw it as an attitude problem between immigrants and existing locals. Instead of the adjusting the immigration inflow, the cabinet tried to promote its own version of social integration. Ordinary Singaporeans may wish to ask themselves whether the PAP regime has understood the immigration problem in perspective.

Chua Suntong is a home-grown Singapore citizen whose interests include finance, history, languages and logistics.

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