Below is a TOC translation of the letter by Workers’ Party Secretary General, Mr Pritam Singh’s letter to the Lianhe Zaobao forum on 10 March 2023
In a letter to the editor published in Lianhe Zaobao’s Think section on 5 March, Mr Yan Mengda discussed my proposal to introduce English language tests for new permanent residents and new citizens during a parliamentary session. However, he did not explore the importance of social integration for a multiracial Singapore now and in the future. Instead, he misrepresented my proposal as equivalent to a loyalty test for Singapore, which is regrettable.
Mr Yan deliberately equated English language testing with an individual’s loyalty to Singapore, distorting my original intention. In fact, neither I nor other Singaporeans who support the idea of requiring English language tests for permanent residents and new citizens have ever suggested that language tests can represent loyalty.
Let me clarify from the outset the purpose and benefits of implementing English language tests for permanent residents and new citizens. Singapore is a multiracial and multicultural society, and having a common language plays a crucial role in building and strengthening cohesion within our diverse community. Strong cohesion between communities positively impacts our nation’s unity. Furthermore, permanent residents and new citizens will not face difficulties when communicating with Singaporeans in everyday life or in any situation. Additionally, knowledge of English leads to more job opportunities.
English language tests are not new or rare in Singapore. In the past, the Ministry of Manpower required new domestic helpers to pass an English test. This requirement has now been replaced by a more comprehensive one-day Settling-in Programme.
In summary, it is common sense that immigrants who can use the working and common language of their new country will have an advantage. What is wrong with adding an English language test to the existing requirements for immigration applications?
Next, let me address the points Mr Yan raises in his article.
First, Mr Yan cited Communications and Information Minister and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo’s statement that even locals who do not speak English can integrate into Singapore society, linking it to my proposal for English language tests for permanent residents and new citizens.
It is clear that these are two completely different issues. It is not difficult to see that many members of our founding and nation-building generations, even without formal English knowledge, can communicate effectively because they often use simple Malay. Using a common language has facilitated the integration of Singaporeans and Malaysians from this generation. We cannot underestimate the importance of having a common language to communicate when people come together. Of course, this is just one of many factors promoting integration.
Second, Mr Yan said, “The older generation of Chinese Singaporeans mostly received Chinese education. Although their numbers are decreasing and their English abilities are limited, it does not mean that their ‘Singaporean-ness’ is insufficient.” I agree that English proficiency does not equate to loyalty to the country. My proposal has never been linked to national loyalty or national identity, so where does the question of “colour” being sufficient or not come from? This is simply creating something out of nothing.
Third, Mr Yan claimed in his article that the English language test would mean Singapore does not welcome immigration applicants to bring their spouses. This is misleading because applicants must first meet specific criteria beyond the English test to be “eligible to apply” for Singapore permanent residency or citizenship. Upon careful analysis, it seems that Mr. Yan has easily turned the English language test into the sole requirement for approving new permanent residents and new citizens, without any other criteria. This is not correct. Strangely enough, Mr Yan also outlined the minister’s explanation in the same article, “Singapore considers various indicators of social integration, including whether applicants have been educated locally, served in the military, and their age and economic contribution.”
Therefore, the English language test is just an additional criterion. In fact, foreign spouses of Singapore citizens who become new citizens and know Singapore’s working language, English, will be more likely to find job opportunities. In fact, the proposal for English language tests goes beyond social integration; it can also contribute to Singapore’s human resource needs.
Fourth, Mr Yan said, “Applicants from English-speaking countries like India and the Philippines will undoubtedly have an advantage…” At first glance, this may seem correct, as English is a popular second language in these countries. However, this once again mistakenly treats the English language test as the sole qualification for approving new permanent residents or citizens, which is not what I proposed. Let me clarify once again that under the proposed English language test plan, existing screening criteria will still be retained. For example, Filipino or Indian citizen applicants who have not served in the military or received local education, even if they have some knowledge of English, may not necessarily have an advantage in applying for permanent residency or citizenship.
I believe that all Singaporeans, regardless of race, language, or religion, want to build a beautiful and successful Singapore for our present and future generations. However, many immigrant societies today face issues of nativism or rifts between local and foreign-born residents. We cannot allow these latent conflicts to fester and worsen within our society; we must manage and regulate them.
Close integration among Singaporeans, permanent residents, and new citizens is key to resolving these latent conflicts. Singapore is originally a multiracial and multilingual society, and the ability of permanent residents and new citizens to communicate in English facilitates their smooth integration into our society, forming the foundation of our national unity. The purpose and aim of my proposal to introduce English language tests are to integrate all races and communities better.
In conclusion, Singaporeans know that we are not an “English-speaking country.” Although English is the primary language of communication in Singapore, our mother tongues, be it Chinese, Malay, or Tamil, remain core features of our various ethnic groups.
We should all support the flourishing development of our mother tongues and encourage the use of these languages in more official communications and consultations. This not only benefits our founding and nation-building generations but also helps future generations take root, aligning with Singapore’s collective interests. We should have no doubts about this!