Seah Chiang Nee
Latest statistics show Malaysian and Indian nationals were the largest groups of new arrivals to Singapore in the past decade. But the figures do not include those on short-term work permits or professional visit passes.
Over the past decade, more Chinese mainlanders flocked into Singapore as permanent residents than any other nationals, right?
Wrong – and by a long shot!
Contrary to widespread perception, the Chinese are not on top of the list. In fact, they totalled only 13,000 – or 3.88% – of the estimated quarter of a million new permanent residents (PRs) who arrived since 2000.
This was a lot fewer than PRs from Malaysia (81,000) and India (68,300) , according to official figures just released.
These statistics appear to have put paid to a widespread notion that Singapore is being flooded by Chinese immigrants.
The figures do not include the estimated 1.3 million non-resident foreigners on short-term work permits or professional visit passes. If they do, the Chinese would probably outnumber others.
Another caveat is that the figures were for a 10-year period and might or might not reflect trends of more recent years. The Chinese bulk started coming in 2005.
“This whole idea that we are being overwhelmed by mainland Chinese has no basis,” said Associate Professor Eugene Tan of Singapore Management University.
“The numbers should tell us that many from China are here only as foreign workers.”
The government has been careful not to let the foreign intake upset Singapore’s ethnic balance, especially against the minorities.
While a large army of Chinese arrived to work here, the authorities were apparently keeping a lid on their numbers when granting them immigration rights.
This was borne out by the latest ethnic breakdown, which showed Singapore’s ethnic Chinese population proportionately in decline – 77.8% in 1990 to 76.8% in 2000 and 74.3% currently.
So is the ratio for Malays, which fell slightly from 14% to 13.4% over 20 years, while ethnic Indians rose from 7.1% in 1990 to 9.2%.
Maintaining the ethnic balance has long been a national tenet virtually carved in stone.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has reassured Singaporeans, especially the minorities, that new immigrants would not be allowed to upset the current mix of races.
The city would remain open to immigrants of all ethnic groups, so long as they can contribute to the national economy, he added.
Despite this, maintaining the balance may likely become tougher – even impossible – in the face of Singapore’s huge appetite for skilled immigrants.
However, he admitted to the difficulty of attracting more Malays or pribumi talent from South-East Asia. Malays make up only 3% of PRs.
A senior leader said Singapore would not actively head out to woo ethnic Malay immigrants from the region, relying instead on scholarships and job opportunities.
“What we cannot do is go overseas and target specific ethnic groups to come to Singapore,” said Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng.
The increase in Indian arrivals has been visible in everyday life but the margin has caught many Singaporeans by surprise.
Indians today make up a quarter of the 1.79 million foreigners in Singapore that include PRs and foreign workers.
The number of new arrivals doubled from 200,000 to 400,000 in the past two years, according to the Indian High Commission. In 2007, some 10,000 professionals arrived in the one year alone.
Once felt mainly in Little India, the Indian presence is today visibly established in Shenton Way, Suntek City and the central parts of the city.
The new arrivals are almost everywhere – in trains, shopping malls and hawker centres.
The wealthy Indians bought new homes along East Coast Road or set up businesses here.
The professionals are mostly in engineering, finance and computers, some of them moving into grassroots politics to serve the ruling People’s Action Party.
I stopped by at VivoCity Kopitiam food court during lunch hour last week and caught a glimpse of Singapore’s new trend.
By local size, it is a rather large place. As much as a quarter of the crowd were Indian professionals, many of whom could be seen queuing up for northern Indian food.
They then sat down to eat among themselves, few mixing with locals.
Like the Chinese and others, the Indian settlers have stirred resentment among a large segment of Singaporeans who regard them as usurpers of jobs and other opportunities.
Others, however, say their presence is helping to create a buzz and improve competitiveness. It is changing lives.
“Recently I put an advert to rent out my father’s flat and all the callers have been from India,” said a Singaporean. “No other nationalities have called so far.”
Other comments include:
“Some Indians now want to go to Tao Nan primary school (an elite school strong in Chinese language). There are really a lot of Indians now.”
“I overheard one Indian saying Singapore is an outpost of India, and only fours hours away by plane.”
“As a Singaporean Indian, I feel insulted when some of my classmates asked me if I was from India. The record shows my ancestors first came here in the 1800s.”
A few are speculating why the government is controlling the granting of PR status to Chinese while allowing them to come in large numbers to work.
One writer said: “Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is concerned that Singapore will become a satellite city of China. I think the huge increase in the number of Indian PRs and new citizens is deliberate filtering by the government.”