Singapore must find ways to keep Singaporeans rooted even as more citizens venture overseas to seize new growth opportunities, according to observers quoted by Channel News Asia (CNA).

The country needs to build an environment where returning expats can easily assimilate back, said Dr Mathew Mathews, principal research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

Speaking to CNA on 14 February, Dr Mathews said that he did not see it so much as a “brain drain,” as Singapore had a “society, [which] always has that environment which will be able to absorb you when you come back.” He added that Singapore offered “a fairer, more inclusive society, [which] cares about being fair, inclusive, gracious, [and] principles which people might feel drawn back to.”

The comments come in the wake of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong’s Budget 2023 speech on Tuesday, in which he highlighted that the world’s economy was expected to enter a stage of greater contestation and fragmentation, adding that Singaporeans need to be agile and competitive in the fast-evolving economy.

Sim Gim Guan, executive director of Singapore National Employers Federation, suggested that companies could send younger employees for overseas stints. “Our workers need to be more ready to get out of their comfort zone,” he added.

For the government, the focus is on uplifting different segments of society, including seniors who wish to continue working, parents with children, and employers looking to hire people with disabilities. Wong said in his Budget speech that the government would do more to support Singaporeans, including helping parents with the costs of raising children and their housing aspirations. “It begins with Singaporeans feeling confident that when they’re in Singapore, Singapore does take care of them,” said Dr Mathews.

Ultimately, Singapore has to reposition itself for a “new era” of global development, which will require a “mindset shift” that foreigners are not here to compete with locals, according to Mr Sim. “I think if our mindset is that we have the best in Singapore, that we have the best to learn from, then I think we will definitely become better,” he said.

CNA is a state-publication under Mediacorp, which is wholly-owned by Temasek Holdings.

Foreigners to replace Singaporeans who went overseas?

The report and the views of the interviewed observers, however, did not go well with its readers in Singapore.

Posting their thoughts on CNA’s Facebook post, the majority of netizens share a common question of why Singaporeans are being told to leave their comfort zone and seek employment when foreigners are welcomed with open arms.

A netizen, Ya Ya Yong, also pointed out that seeking a work visa in other countries, such as America and Canada, is not easy. While Andy Wong pointed out that no other country in the world has, “open leg policies like Singapore that put foreigners first over their citizens”, and that Singaporeans would have to be mentally prepared as they would be discriminated overseas.


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