by Terry Xu/ Leong Sze Hian
During the debate on the two motions on foreign talent policy and Singapore jobs filed in Parliament on 14 September 2021, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that the Permanent Resident (PR) population has remained stable over the past decade, at around half a million and so, it cannot be the case that most of the employment growth went to PRs.
This is in response to the Progress Singapore Party (PSP)’s expressed concerns over the increase in the number of foreign Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) and how locals might have been displaced and lost out.
Dr Tan said:
The PSP has asked whether most of the local job creation went to PRs rather than Singaporeans. During the 6 July Ministerial Statement, I have already shared that the majority of local PME growth over the last decade went to Singaporeans born in Singapore. This is the same for PMETs.
Some other data points we published should make it clear that Singaporeans have benefited. First, MOM regularly publishes unemployment rates for PRs and citizens. The unemployment rate of citizens has remained stable and low.
Secondly, the PR population has also remained stable over the past decade, at around half a million. So, it cannot be the case that most of the employment growth went to PRs. But, more fundamentally, as a society, I do not think we should be drawing lines between Singapore Citizens and PRs. Many of our PRs either share family ties with Singaporeans or have studied, worked or lived here for some time. They contribute to our strengths as a society and our economy. Singapore is an immigrant nation and openness is one of our society’s core strengths that have defined who we are.
So, in essence, Dr Tan is saying that since the population of PRs has remained stable, meaning no increase, therefore it cannot be that PRs are taking up more jobs from local Singaporeans.
Ms Hazel Poa had stood to clarify in response to Dr Tan’s mention of her point about the job holder’s status being reclassified.
Yes, but the PRs become citizens. So, there is a drop in the PRs and then the new foreigners go in to fill up the PR numbers. So, as a whole, the number of citizens plus PRs actually increases. That base increases, and, therefore, leading to an increase in the number of local PME jobs purely due to reclassification, not job creation. That is my point. I am not really even making a difference between citizens and PRs. I am just talking about local citizens plus PR.
Dr Tan rebutted Ms Poa by saying that “majority of the jobs went to local bred and born Singaporeans. Majority. That means more than 50%. So there is no reclassification.”
“So, it is not like as if these PRs became naturalised Singaporeans. This majority is Singaporeans who are born and bred here. So, for that majority under that category, the statistics do not include those who are not born here.”
Dr Tan’s response to Ms Poa becomes questionable at this point when we take a closer look at the labour statistics.
If we were to look at the official data*, we note that the number of PRs in the Singapore workforce has been decreasing over the past years, but at the same time, the percentage of PRs in the workforce has instead increased over the years.
What do the above statistics suggest?
Could it possibly be that over the last 12 years or so that there was an increasing trend of most of the new PRs granted, or those who stayed on in Singapore, were workers in the workforce, rather than dependents?
Also, although it may seem that the PRs population has been declining — the number of PRs who may, arguably, be competing with S’poreans for jobs, may have been actually increasing.
This might be why Dr Tan used the stable PR population as a premise to suggest that jobs that ought to have been taken up by Singaporeans did not go to PRs.
But from the bare figures itself, we can see that more PRs are, indeed, taking up jobs in the workforce over the years.
And on Hazel Poa’s point about reclassification, each year, Singapore has a conversion of over 20,000 PRs to new citizens as part of the Population White Paper scheme, which plans for a population of 6.9 million by 2030.
If we were to take the assumption of what has been described above as accurate, then it would imply the number of jobs taken up by PRs plus new citizens converted from PRs is far more than what is described above as the majority of the converted new citizens would be employed.
It is hardly assuring for the Manpower Minister to standby by his statement that a simple majority of just over 50 per cent of local PME growth over the last decade went to Singaporeans born in Singapore.
Could it be that 49.9 per cent of the jobs created went to new citizens, PRs and foreigners? What about pre-existing jobs previously held by Singaporeans which might have been taken up by foreigners?
And Dr Tan said that there was a growth of 380,000 local PMEs jobs between the period of 2005 to 2020. But isn’t this growth lumped together with PRs and new citizens?
Given that there were 635,533 new PRs granted from 2005 to 2020, how many of the 575,300 local jobs growth from 2005-2020 were to Singaporeans?
How many Singaporeans were displaced from their work via the jobs created for 748,300 foreign workers between 2005-2020?
Perhaps the answers to these questions are the reasons why the Manpower Ministry has always been reluctant to give a clear breakdown of figures for local employment in terms of Singaporeans and PRs, especially for its PMET figures.
*The four years are the only four years since 2010 that are given in the report