From 2008 to 2018, the Singapore population has grown from 4.84 million to 5.7 million, an increase of 17.7 percent. Looking at the population of citizens specifically, that has increased from 3.16 million in 2008 to 3.47 million in 2018. That’s an almost 10% increase in the number of citizens in Singapore or about 310,000 citizens over the last decade.
Now, these numbers include both births as well as new citizenships granted over the decade.
It is no secret that the plans to grow the population to 6.9 million in 2030, as set out in a 2013 Population White Paper. On top of that, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said during a March 2019 ministerial dialogue at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), that the country’s population density is not excessive, noting that other cities are even more crowded and dense.
Mr Heng went on to also cite 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.
But of course, immigration is key to growing the population given the country’s low birth rate. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said in 2013, “We are producing too few babies, our society is ageing, and if we do nothing, our population will soon start shrinking.”
According to the annual Population in Brief reports by the Strategy Group under the Prime Minister’s Office, approximately 224,132 new citizenships were granted between 2008 to 2018. These new citizens are mostly from Southeast Asia and other Asian countries.
These reports also highlight that immigration contributes about 20,000 to 25,000 new citizens annually, while citizen births average about 32,200 annual between 2007 to 2017.
Basically, new citizens seem to be ramping up the general population numbers in Singapore.
To a lesser degree, permanent residents (PR) also contribute to the growing population. Between 2008 and 2018, there were 408,591 permanent residencies granted in that period, again mostly from Southeast Asian and Asian countries.
However, the total PR population hasn’t increased much over the decade, from 480,000 in 2008 to 530,000 in 2018. This illustrates that PRs either transition into becoming citizens or they give up their PR status for one reason or another.
The idea behind the latter is that many treat Singapore as a stepping stone.
A wikileaks document from 2009 illustrates this in the following excerpt:
Many Chinese immigrants use Singapore as a stepping stone and depart for greater opportunities abroad once they have obtained Permanent Resident status.
The document also noted that while many skilled Chinese workers and students eventually become Singapore citizens, a greater number seek better opportunities elsewhere once they have obtained PR status.
In fact, some might even choose to go back to their own country even after obtaining citizenship in Singapore.
How difficult would it be for someone to restore their citizenship?
In India, the immigration website notes that “A person of full age and capacity who was earlier citizen of Independent India and has been residing in India for one year” can make an application to register as a citizen.
Documents required as a copy of a valid foreign passport and evidence of earlier citizenship of Independent India (via birth certificate or old Indian passport). The fees for this application includes about RS500 (S$9) payable for the declaration and oath of allegiance.
In China, any foreigner who has previously held Chinese citizenship can apply for a restoration of their citizenship with valid reasons. Similar to India, the documents required as minimal include a copy of the foreign passport and evidence of previous PRC citizenship.
The fees of these come up to about 250 yuan (S$50.4).
A Chinese netizen commented on China’s social page Zhizhu that the process is simple but can be time-consuming as applicants would need to go back to their hometown to submit the application. The length of time taken for the application to be processed varies depending on the city. For example, it could take up to 24 months in Beijing but only half a year in Guangdong.
In Vietnam, it’s a little bit more complicated though no less possible. A person who wants to restore their Vietnamese nationality can do so if they fit certain conditions including waiting five years since they renounced citizenship before reapplying, using their previous Vietnamese name, and renounced their foreign nationality.
In Malaysia, it’s a little more difficult. A person who has lost their citizenship can regain it by first obtaining a PR status from Malaysia’s Immigration Department but this alone will take some time as you need to be an expatriate in Malaysia for five consecutive years under a long term visa to qualify to apply for a PR. Only after you’ve secured a PR can you apply for citizenship.
What does this mean for Singapore?
Now, looking at the process of regaining citizenship in various countries in the region, while it can certainly take a long time, it actually doesn’t seem all that difficult to do.
Circling back to the issues of Singapore’s population, with so many of the residents in Singapore being new citizens and PRs—with the government citing that Singapore should plan for a population of 10 million by 2050—the question now is whether Singapore is becoming a hotel country or a sort of temporary placement for many who pass through its borders?
And if that’s true, how does that affect Singapore society? By then, the local population would be overwhelmed by new citizens, given that the low birth rate means the growth in population would largely be driven by immigration.
In a 2013 Guardian article, a young Singaporean said about the increase of foreigners, “I love my country… the cost of living is high, the income gap is widening, transport is failing and unfamiliar faces are crowding our land. People are getting increasingly fed up because our daily lives are affected.”
A different article by Al Jazeera in February of 2013 quoted a Singaporean-bored man named Shah who said, “It is the simple fact that I don’t feel like I am home anymore in Singapore.” The sentiment motivated him to move out of the country to Japan.
The same article mentioned a public protest triggered by the government’s 2013 White Paper on Population which talked about increasing the population to 6.9 million by 2030. Activist Gilbert Goh was quoted as saying back then, “My greatest fear that arises from all this is the loss of our Singaporean identity because it’s been eroded so much already and with the heavy influx, it may be destroyed. And to add insult to injury, we are constantly being reminded that we could be the minority population figure in 17 years’ time.”