Immigration is a hot button issue which has created controversy in the past and may continue to generate strong sentiments. On the one hand, they have been blamed for pushing up the costs of living, stretching our public transportation system and for allegedly stealing our jobs and pushing down wages.
On the other hand, they have been credited for doing the work that Singaporeans turn their noses up at and facilitating the lifestyles that we have grown accustomed to.
My personal view is that immigration has a positive impact in our country and we should welcome our new residents. However, the process in which visas and employment passes are granted have to be more streamlined and transparent. The objectives have to be clear with a long term plan as opposed to short term and disjointed forays in order to artificially plug some gap. Further, the city must be readied to accommodate the larger population. With well thought out city planning, strategic goals and immigration rules that are fair and clear, the resentment that some Singaporeans feel will dissipate.
Singapore is a small country and we live pretty much in each other’s faces. The government’s failure to adequately enhance the city’s facilities in order to accommodate the newcomers is bound to stretch the existing services causing frustration among the locals. Why didn’t the various government departments in charge of city planning, transport, housing and immigration not get together beforehand to formulate a joint up plan? Was it because it was done in such a hurry to plug some gap leaving inadequate time for thorough and holistic preparations?
Why are some visas granted while others in similar situations not? I don’t think there is a sinister plan at play. I simply think it is inefficiency caused by a lack of foresight. Instead of trying to think of solutions that solve the underlying problems, immigrants were and are brought in as a stop gap measure without any long term policy considerations. A lack of consistency will always fuel suspicion and dissatisfaction.
Singapore is fixated on the concept of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That is a measure of our success and how well we are doing so much so that the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) has equated the level of our GDP to our success as a country. This is however misleading. GDP measures the amount of production of a country. This can be anything ranging from building condos that no one lives in to shopping centres with no customers to refurbishing roads that are already in good condition. The level of GDP does not necessarily translate to a higher quality of life. It does not always mean greater prosperity. Rather, it can be massaged to create an image of false or inflated prosperity. Are immigrants brought in to beef up the GDP without a corresponding benefit to Singaporeans?
Bringing in foreigners also means that we should be responsible for them. We should not exploit those from poorer countries and feel entitled to pay them less and treat them as lesser beings. That is not the mark of a responsible host or civil society. Let’s look at the domestic workers and construction workers in our midst. They silently keep the country running by allowing parents to go to work, building our houses, roads and offices and looking after our aged. For this honour, they are paid low wages and work long hours. And at the end of it all, they have no rights to ever become permanent residents or citizens. Is this fair? Given that our country does not provide any welfare, why is there no right for them to remain? Is it racist?
I can go on and on but then dear reader, you will get bored so I will confine myself to these broad points which are hopefully demonstrated by the examples I have set out above. Without a concrete long term plan for why immigrants are required and the numbers, everything will be done in a disorganised and hap hazard fashion creating confusion and frustration.
If the government departments don’t work together, there will be no cohesion leading to overcrowding and resentment.
If the government has no intention of allowing a large percentage of our foreign workforce to remain (even if they have been here for 20 years), they are creating a parallel society whereby people do not integrate, a recipe for distrust and suspicion.
If the government is only bringing in immigrants as a short term solution to meet a need without solving the underlying problem, this will not solve the problem in the long run. It is also misleading the public!