Immigration – A Different Approach

By Ghui –

I think it is fair to say that most Singaporeans genuinely want Singapore to prosper and for Singaporeans to have a better life. Similarly, I believe that this is also what the government wants. This is especially so if the rules of democracy apply, for the “better job” a government does, the more likely it will retain power. In light of Singapore’s developing and increasing political awareness,

I have reason to assume that the rules of democracy will continue to get more rigorous. Using this set of assumptions, I surmise that both the government and the people are after the same goal and the differences lie in methodology.

The biggest hotbed for contention is the issue of “foreign talent”. To the average Singaporean, these immigrants are an eyesore. They take up valuable space on public transport and allegedly compete with us for jobs. In short, there are apparently too many of them and in land scarce Singapore, they appear to be even more “in your face”.

The government’s constant answer to the displeasure voiced by Singaporeans is that Singapore needs to boost its dwindling population so as to keep the economy vibrant. Many have already poked holes at this theory because a newborn cannot be equated to an adult.

Besides, what is to stop foreigners growing old too? Is that not a force of nature that cannot be beaten? This solution of encouraging large-scale immigration to plug the population gap is therefore far from foolproof.

I am not anti immigration at all. Far from it! Singapore is a country built on the hard work of our ancestors who were immigrants themselves! As such, I am a firm believer of the contributions of immigrants. Aside from the obvious policy failures in planning for such mass immigrations, perhaps the government can do more to point out the exact contributions of our “foreign talent” with proper examples and figures as opposed to the oft-cited rhetoric of population growth.

Surely, the government must be aware that its “standard answer” not only has no appeal but also is fanning the flames of xenophobia?

I recently attended a panel discussion organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for East Asian Business. This panel discussion was held in London in the Houses of Parliament in conjunction with the Olympics. Lord Wei, the first British born Chinese in history to become a member of the House of Lords chaired the discussion and the panelists were Colin Wilson, Senior Director of DTZ’s central London business, Michael Ward, Managing Director of Harrods, Gordon Innes, CEO of London & Partners and Stephan Miles Brown, Head of Residential Development for Knight Frank.

At this panel discussion attended by the world media, these eminent members of the London business community together with Lord Wei who represented the interests of the government gave valid examples of how harnessing the talents of foreigners has boosted the economy of London and benefited Londoners in general.

For instance, Michael Ward touched on how the influx of Chinese immigrants, tourists and students has contributed to the development of Harrods as a global brand. Harrods has long been a prominent icon of London and a big draw for tourism. Its growth would not only boost tourism, but would also have knock on effects on industries such as the food and hotel industries. Not to mention that it ensures employment for British citizens.

By way of example, Mr Ward said that as of 2008, Chinese customers increased by 9 fold! In his concise speech, he highlighted the benefits of foreigners in a clear manner with logic that is hard to refute.

Mr Wilson gave a summary of how institutional foreign real estate development has brought forth growth to the property sector in London. He explained that large-scale investment by foreign financial institutions and sovereign wealth funds had actually stimulated building and development London. I am not talking about speculative buying by individuals that have driven the prices up for average Jo in the Singaporean context. What I am talking about is structured foreign investment, which would rejuvenate Singapore and generate jobs for Singaporeans.

Examples were also cited to explain how the welcome of foreigners would enhance the relationships between London and the respective foreign countries, which would in turn lead to more investment. Foreigners play an important role in creating awareness of what London has to offer which would go a long way to establish London as a centre for business. These are certainly compellingly logical.

There are clear distinctions between Singapore and London but can we not learn something from this? I am no expert but this discussion did give me some food for thought. In our Singaporean context, might the government not try to explain in easy to understand examples, facts and figures why immigration and foreigners benefit Singapore?

This, together with measures to cool the speculative housing market, ensure a streamlined and structured immigration policy and alleviate the overloaded public transport system, might go a long way in convincing Singaporeans on the benefits of “foreign talent”. Appeal to our logic. Don’t blame us for not having enough babies.