Nine years ago in 2010, then former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said at a public dialogue that Singapore should scale back its need for foreign workers (‘Fewer foreign workers in five years, says MM‘, 28 Jan 2010).
The founding Prime Minister gave a 5 year time frame to the government to reduce the inflow of foreign workers. To make up for the dip, the government would invest in upgrading the skills of the workforce, he said.
“The next five years, we have decided we will tier down our need for foreign workers,” he said. “We will pay for help to educate people, continuing education and training, which means a lot of money, probably co-payment with the employer to send him (the worker) for training so that he’s paid whilst he’s doing the training, then he increases his skill.”
“We’ve grown in the last five years by just importing labour. Now, the people feel uncomfortable, there are too many foreigners,” he noted at the time. “Trains are overcrowded with foreigners, buses too, property prices have gone up because foreigners with permanent residence are buying into the market.”
“The answer is simple: We check the flow of foreigners, raise your productivity, do the job better, so that instead of two workers, eventually you’ll do it with one worker, like the Japanese do.”
Heng wants Singaporeans to be open to foreigners
However, PM designate Heng Swee Keat told Singaporeans at a book launch last month that they need to be open to foreign talents and ideas (‘Singapore must stay open to talent and ideas: Heng Swee Keat‘).
Mr Heng noted Singapore and many other countries have benefited from globalisation, but increasingly, people in many countries are questioning the value of it.
“People feel that they are left behind. They are frustrated that wages are stagnating and lives are not improving. They lost faith in their political systems and governments. These have led to a weakening of social cohesion,” he said.
“These winds of change remind us about the importance of remaining open to the world and being resourceful.”
He also added, “No one group or country has all the ideas or expertise to tackle the many challenges that the world is facing. In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected, we need to remain open and collaborate to achieve better outcomes together.”
Non-stop importation of foreign workers by Singapore
Indeed, Singapore has been overwhelmingly open to foreigners in the many years.
According to the latest statistics, as of last year, Singapore has a total population of 5.64 million, out of which 3.47 million (61.5%) are Singaporean citizens with 2.17 million (38.5%) foreigners residing here.
That is to say, for every 10 people in Singapore, 4 are already foreigners living, working and studying here.
Not only that, further MOM data shows that the total number of foreign workers (EP, S Pass and WP holders) continues to increase in Singapore:
Last month (28 Mar) in a ministerial dialogue at NTU, Mr Heng even told the students that Singapore’s population density is not that excessive, noting that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space.
He cited former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.
“If you look at from 1960 till now,” Mr Liu said at the time, “Singapore’s land density has tripled but even with that, we have built a good environment through more skills and knowledge. So if we can do it then, Singaporeans should believe that we now have the ability to solve these problems and that we will have a good environment even though population density may increase.”
In other words, Mr Liu was telling Singaporeans not to worry about the increase in population density even if the population goes to 10 million.
And now, even Mr Heng is supporting Mr Liu’s vision of Singapore having a 10 million population in future.