Josephine Teo: We give citizenship to FTs who can contribute, integrate well and sink roots here

In Parliament yesterday (1 Mar), Minister in Prime Minister Office Josephine Teo said that Singapore population is likely to be “significantly below” 6.9 million by 2030.

In 2013, the PAP government pushed out a white paper which projected that Singapore population would hit 6.9 million by 2030. The publication triggered a massive public protest at Hong Lim Park in the history of Singapore, with the news made headlines worldwide.

She told Parliament that the current rate of immigration allows Singapore to achieve close to the same effect as if Singaporeans had a full-replacement Total Fertility Rate of 2.1. Singapore’s own TFR was 1.16 last year.

Last year, 22,076 Singapore citizenship were granted, about the same as in the past five years, while the permanent resident population remained largely stable at around 530,000, with 31,849 PRs granted last year, she said.

Maintaining immigration will stave off an even sharper decline in Singapore’s working-age citizen population, she said.

“Without immigration, it (population) would have started to shrink earlier and decline at a much faster rate,” she said. “This is why we prioritise not only those who can contribute, but those who are also prepared to sink roots in Singapore, and can integrate well here.”

New citizen who has “fake degree”

It’s not known how Ms Teo and her government decide which foreigners would be granted citizenship.

But going by past incidents, they appear to grant Singapore citizenship to foreigners in a haphazard manner.

In 2015, there was a public outcry when netizens found that the then Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) had recruited someone who had obtained her master’s degree from a degree mill. The IDA applications consultant, Nisha Padmanabhan was discovered by netizens to have obtained her master’s degree from Southern Pacific University, which was already forced to close in the United States by a court order.

When public anger was mounting, IDA came out to defend their decision in employing Ms Padmanabhan. After finishing its investigations, IDA said it was satisfied that Ms Padmanabhan did not deceive the agency. It argued that her employment was not based on her MBA but on her bachelor’s degree. Ms Padmanabhan’s basic degree is from the University of Mumbai in India, a university whose ranking is more than 700+ in the world.

“She had genuinely believed her MBA programme to be bona fide, and she had put in effort to obtain the qualification,” an IDA spokesperson defended Ms Padmanabhan publicly.

Ms Padmanabhan, in fact, is a new citizen originally hailed from India. She apparently started working in Singapore in 2006 and was granted Singapore citizenship along the way.

It’s not known if ICA also granted her the Singapore citizenship based on her bachelor’s degree and not her “fake” MBA. After all, like what IDA said, “She had genuinely believed her MBA programme to be bona fide, and she had put in effort to obtain the qualification.”

Black box for Singapore immigration application process

On the other hand, professionals, experienced and talented who are also from India and various countries, find it impossible to get a clear answer from ICA on why their applications for citizenship is unsuccessful.

Joseph (not his real name) is an Indian national who has been in Singapore for five years. He has since settled down with a Singaporean Chinese spouse and has two children. Other than earning way above the minimum sum for Employment Pass holders, he also recently purchased a property in Singapore.

However, Joseph remains as Employment Pass holder as his previous application for citizenship was denied and he said he will try one more time before giving up. He commented to TOC that he does not understand why the government rejects his application and how is he not seen as someone who is serious about sinking roots in Singapore.

In 2016, Minister of Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam responded to a question on transparency in granting citizenship and permanent residency.

He wrote, “Each application for Permanent Residency (PR) and Singapore Citizenship (SC) is evaluated holistically on a range of criteria, including economic contributions, education qualifications, family profile and length of stay in Singapore. The objective is to assess how committed the applicant is to sink roots here, and how well the applicant is able to contribute and integrate into our society.

However, we do not reveal the detailed criteria for granting PR and SC as it is not in our interest to do so. Revealing the detailed criteria would, among other things, create sensitivities in their countries of origin.”