During an exchange at the Committee of Supply debates for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on 27 February, Mr Pritam Singh questioned Singapore’s goals when bringing in new citizens.
He had asked if the Ministry would consider having applicants for Singapore citizenship to take a test for working proficiency in English as a criteria for better integration between new citizens and Singaporeans of all races and religions since English is Singapore’s main language of communication.
“We want those who truly know Singapore and want to embrace the Singapore way of life. We want those who really want to live here and be here.”
Rejecting those who seek Singapore Citizenship as a stepping-stone
“Singaporeans do not want new citizens who do not want to live here but only want the power of the Singapore passport for their convenience and the safe and secure environment for their assets and wealth, ” Mr Singh added.
He said Singapore does not want new citizens who are reluctant for their sons to do National Service and people who only want Singapore Citizenship as a stepping-stone to another country but, instead, seek those who have a long-term commitment to Singapore.
When asked by Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo if Mr Singh was advocating that such a test should be applied before someone can be considered for permanent residency or citizenship.
“I believe it would be helpful so I would advocate for it,” Mr Singh responded while citing the latest Singapore Census report once more.
Pro-establishment commentator misrepresented Mr Singh’s proposal as equivalent to a ‘loyalty test’
On 5 March, a member of the public wrote in to Chinese Newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, questioning if Mr Singh was implying Singapore is already an “English-speaking country.”
“Anyone who wants to join us must be able to speak English. As a result, applicants from English-speaking countries such as India and the Philippines will definitely have an advantage. His unspoken meaning has made many people hear it and feel unhappy, ” Mr Yan Mengda accused Mr Singh.
“Although the majority of older-generation Chinese Singaporeans received Chinese education, and although their numbers are dwindling, their limited English proficiency does not mean that they are not “Singaporeans” enough.”
He claimed that Mr Singh’s suggestion lacked constructive thinking and is trying to impose a ‘loyalty test’ via examining English proficiency.
“There is probably no foolproof way to test a person’s loyalty to the country. It’s a joke to assume that foreigners who pass an “English test” will prove their loyalty to Singapore, ” Yan mocked Mr Singh.
English language requirements to apply citizenship in other countries
While Mr Yan claimed that Mr Singh failed to provide any examples of English-speaking countries that require immigrants to pass an English test, in fact, countries such as Australia, Canada, UK, and New Zealand already have English language requirements in place for those who seek to apply citizenship or permanent resident status in their country.
For example, one must demonstrate proficiency in English or French by passing a language test in Canada.
United States Immigration law also requires an English and civics test for all requesting to become the country’s citizens.
Mr Singh refuted misrepresented accusation from commenter
Pritam Singh subsequently refuted Mr Yan’s accusation in a forum letter on Lianhe Zaobao, expressing his disappointment that Mr Yan misrepresented his proposal as equivalent to a ‘loyalty test’ for Singapore.
“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.”
Singh said having a common language plays a crucial role in building and strengthening cohesion within our diverse community, and he purpose and benefits of implementing English language tests is to ensure permanent residents and new citizens will not face difficulties when communicating with Singaporeans in everyday life or in any situation.
“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?” Mr Singh asked the commentor.
Mr Singh further reiterated that his proposal has never been linked to national loyalty or national identity and that he agrees 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.”
“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, ” Mr Singh stressed.
Netizens shared they encountered new citizens insisting on speaking their native language
On Reddit, netizens have engaged in heated discussions regarding Mr Singh’s proposal.
Some have echoed Singh’s idea and suggest that the government should adopt a pragmatic approach when granting citizenships.
Others have shared their personal experiences in the workplace or daily life when encountering new citizens who struggle to communicate effectively or insist on speaking their native language.
One redditor, for instance, shared that he had to act as a translator on multiple occasions for new citizens who were conversing with Malay/Indian service staff at restaurants, counters, ticketing booths, and other locations.
“What is the point of that then if new immigrants just speak to exclusively Chinese staff and Chinese people and form their own enclaves? Aren’t we literally setting ourselves up for issues down the line?”
Students allegedly pretend not to understand English
However, another Redditor expressed a pessimistic viewpoint, stating that there are instances where migrants deliberately choose not to communicate in English.
“In my previous job, we frequently have NUS PRC students acting they can’t understand English with Malay/Indian staff, so they can talk to the Chinese staff.”
Redditor ‘cocoexotic’ wrote:
Redditor ‘misteraaaaa’ suggested that promoting basic multilingualism beyond an individual’s mother tongue could be beneficial and noted that there are individuals who cannot even count to 10 in Malay or Chinese, and that Tamil (and even Hindi) is essentially unknown to those who are not of Indian descent.
Rejecting those who solely “buy” Singapore citizenship without any efforts
In agreement with Pritam Singh’s stance on rejecting applicants who seek Singapore citizenship solely for convenience, a Redditor emphasized the importance of English proficiency in assimilating into local society.
“If the new immigrant just “buy” his citizenship here without any efforts to be a legit Singaporean, I doubt whether we should welcome this type of new citizen. ”
‘Refusing to integrate with Singapore society does not serve the nation’s interests in the long run’
Another Redditor highlighted that simply parking one’s money in Singapore or refusing to integrate with the local society does not serve the nation’s interests in the long run.
“Sure in the short run that helps to fluff up GDP and population numbers, but in the long run we will end up a hollow and divided nation with no real economic prosperity to show for it.”
Regarding Mrs Teo’s claim that those who cannot communicate in English are likely to be spouses of citizens or other permanent residents, a Redditor commented that living in Singapore for ten years should be sufficient time for them to learn the language and pass a basic English test.
“I especially think test is important if spouse wish to work in Sg. Why do Singaporean even bother to take English O’level test if it is not important.”
Another Redditor questioned whether would it not make sense for foreign spouses to learn English and integrate better with the community.