Reading between the lines, Singaporeans are reasonably happy with more Chinese immigrants but are not so happy with Malays and Indonesians. And there IS a difference. The Singapore emphasis on “merit” in the immigrants accepted should however go a long way towards ameliorating any problems

The Singapore government recognises the concerns of its citizens over the rapid increase of foreigners in the country in recent years. As a result, it has reviewed its process of granting permanent residency and citizenship. Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said as Singaporeans are not replacing themselves, the country also needs to tap on immigration to augment its population.

Speaking in Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate for the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Wong explained that tackling population challenges are about finding the right dynamic balance and trade-offs.

36-year-old researcher Dr Xue Bo came from China five years ago. He started life here like any other expatriate living in a condominium with his family. But in 2007, Dr Xue moved to the heartlands into public housing. That’s where he met Alan Lim who opened his eyes to all things Singaporean. Not ony did Mr Lim help Dr Xue’s family orientate themselves in the new neighbourhood, he also included them in his social circles and introduced them to his friends.

Mr Lim said: “Most of the time we bring him to church on weekends and we bring him to visit places like Sentosa and also to educate him about the Peranakan culture. I think most Singaporeans should go out of their way more to help the immigrants. “Put yourself in his condition. You come to a place where you don’t know anybody. So I think it’s good if you can help the person to settle down. You don’t gain anything but you will find that the person is more receptive to you and as the days go by you will find that the person will be a good friend to you.”

Dr Xue Bo said: “Without their help, we won’t have the feeling of being at home. Now we treat them really as family members. Now we consider Singapore as second hometown.” Today, Dr Xue and his family are all PRs and his story is a familiar one.

Last year, the government granted 59,500 permanent residency and 19,900 citizenships. That’s about 20,000 fewer PRs and some 600 fewer citizenships granted in 2008. Mr Wong said the number of permanent residency granted will be reduced although there will be no absolute cap to this and there will be up to 20,000 new citizens a year. The number is derived from Singapore’s low fertility rate of 1.23 – among the lowest in the world.

Mr Wong said: “Immigration is a key source of population augmentation which we cannot afford to do without. In a nutshell, we need 60,000 babies just to replace our resident population. But we only have about 37,000 babies per year. This is why we need about 20,000 new citizens in order to keep our citizen core.

But still, as MPs point out, there are concerns on the ground. MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Indranee Rajah said: “If you think of Singapore as a family, the Singapore citizen is the biological child asking why do you care for my foster brother and sister more than me?

MP for MacPherson Mathias Yao, said: “Singaporeans began to feel that the Singaporean way of life was being encroached on or even slowly changed. Some do not like it. While they have no problem living in a multiracial, multi cultural society, and indeed that is what Singapore is, they nevertheless feel that it has to be a Singaporean society and not a new imported society that is alien to those born and bred here,” said

Mr Wong added the government will ensure that those who sink their roots here contribute to Singapore economically and integrate well into society. The National Integration Council is already spearheading efforts for that. There was also an assurance that the government will stand by the principle that Singaporeans come first in their own country. But not at the expense of meritocracy and turning away suitable foreign talents.

Mr Wong said: “We need to be sensible and balanced about how we go about this. For instance, we should never undermine the principle of meritocracy which makes us competitive and which ensures communal harmony and social cohesion. “We must also avoid making ourselves so unattractive that suitable foreigners are deterred from sinking roots and becoming a part of Singapore. There is a global competition for good people with talent and if we make Singapore an inhospitable place, we will lose out. “We will do ourselves great harm if others outside Singapore have the wrong impression that we are xenophobic. This will be against our national interest”.

So Mr Wong said finding the right balance is crucial. He added: “Singapore grew and prospered since its founding because of our great-grandparents, grandparents and parents were allowed to come and settle to make a better life and in the process contribute to Singapore’s growth. Had they been denied the opportunity to do so at that time, we would not be born here and Singapore would not be what it is today. “In future, the children and grandchildren of today’s immigrants who take root here will grow up with our children and grandchildren. Together they will be the next generation of Singaporeans and Singapore will be their home as much as it is our home today.”

Most foreigners in Singapore are transient workers. They number 1.25 million out of a total population of about five million. Mr Wong said such workers make up an important part of the workforce and their economic contributions to Singapore’s growth are real and significant. He explained: “Transient foreign workers are here to work and will eventually return to their home countries. Most of them do not sink roots. We should appreciate their contributions to Singapore as they have helped us to grow our GDP.

“In turn, with economic growth, we have the resources to develop infrastructure and support programmes which have raised the quality of life of Singaporeans. “Economic growth has also enabled us to accumulate reserves in good times which we have been able to rely on to sustain and support Singaporeans during lean and tough times.”