It was reported that Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, told Parliament last Friday (24 Feb 2023) that Singapore’s resident total fertility rate hit a new low of 1.05 last year.

She also said that about 1 in 4 Singapore citizens will be aged 65 and above by 2030, making it increasingly challenging to sustain economic growth as the resident workforce increases at a slower rate.

As such, she stressed that welcoming immigrants to Singapore play an important part in moderating the impact of an ageing population and low birth rates.

“While most Singaporeans understand why we need immigrants, there are, understandably, concerns over competition for jobs and other resources, and how the texture and character of our society could change, and whether our infrastructure can keep up,” Ms Indranee told Parliament but added that Singapore has maintained a “measured and stable pace of immigration”.

Singapore granted around 23,100 new citizenships last year, with 1,300 going to children born overseas to Singaporean parents, she said. Additionally, approximately 34,500 new permanent residencies were granted, according to her. These figures were slightly higher than those in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

She emphasized the need for Singapore to remain open to foreign manpower but assured that Singapore’s total population is likely to remain significantly below 6.9 million by 2030. She added that the Government will continue to plan ahead to maintain a good quality living environment and home for all Singaporeans.

Majority of new citizens don’t do NS

Meanwhile, as Singapore’s total fertility rate drops, the number of people serving the National Service (NS) each year to defend Singapore also falls.

Last August, refuting NCMP Leong Mun Wai’s assertion that “citizens by registration are not doing NS”, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament that 3,400 new citizens do serve NS on the average each year.

“Mr Leong’s assertion is inaccurate and misleading,” Dr Ng rebutted Mr Leong at the time. “Since 2000, on average, 3,400 new citizens are registered each year who have been or will be enlisted like all male Singaporeans to serve their NS duties.”

However, in an earlier written reply to Parliament, Dr Ng did acknowledge that men who receive citizenship as mature adults, typically in their 30s and 40s, are not enlisted as they are not suitable for full-time NS at that age and did not enjoy any benefits before obtaining their citizenship.

But new male citizens who stayed in Singapore when young and enjoyed economic and social benefits are enlisted when they reach 18 years of age or older, he said. They enlist for NS at 18 years or older to perform full-time NS and must fulfil their operationally ready NS duties after that. “That is universal and equitable,” Dr Ng added.

“But if a foreigner comes to Singapore and becomes a citizen as a mature adult, typically in his 30s or 40s, we exempt him from National Service because he did not enjoy any socio-economic benefits like young Singaporeans and also because he would be too old to enlist for full-time National Service.”

In contrast, native Singaporeans in his 30s or 40s are not deemed as too old to fulfil their operationally ready NS duties or otherwise known as reservist duties.

It has been reported that some new citizens would deliberately not apply for citizenship or PR status for their young sons together with them, and let their sons stay in Singapore on student pass. Their sons would then apply for citizenship later themselves when they have become adults, thereby avoiding serving NS and subsequent 20 or so years of reservist duties.

Dr Ng assured the House that PRs and young male new citizens have already formed “an increasing proportion” of NS enlistees. “So what Mr Leong asserts is not true. Many new citizens are enlisted for National Service every year. New citizens and PRs are contributing to our national defence. And without that extra inject of new citizens and PRs, our smaller birth cohorts would have impacted SAF’s (Singapore Armed Forces) manpower needs more acutely,” Dr Ng said.

He criticised Mr Leong for making misleading statements that can weaken NS, the SAF and Home Team. But Mr Leong retorted back, “My clarification is, what are the number of new citizens who have not performed NS? Because the number the Minister has given only forms a subset of the new citizens.”

At the time, the Defence Minister responded, “His question has been replied to.”

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