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Singapore will need 100,000 new foreign workers this year to keep on track an economy enjoying a stunning rebound, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in remarks published Thursday.
Rich but worker-starved Singapore has historically rolled out the welcome mat for foreigners, whose numbers rose dramatically in the boom of 2004-2007.
But with one in three of the five million people living on the tiny island now a foreigner and citizens complaining about competition for jobs, housing and medical care, the government has been looking anew at its open-door policy.
Nonetheless Lee said the need for more overseas labour was unavoidable despite efforts to slow the influx after complaints from citizens facing tougher jobs competition during last year’s recession.
“If we don’t allow the foreign workers in, you are going to have overheating,” the Straits Times quoted him as telling Singaporean media during an ongoing visit to the United States.
On Wednesday the trade and industry ministry sharply upgraded its forecast for economic growth this year to 13-15 percent from 7.0-9.0 percent.
That could make Singapore the world’s fastest growing economy this year, according to economists.
Lee assured Singaporeans the government would manage the inflow of foreign workers with measures such as higher levies on companies hiring from abroad.
But even so, “I’d imagine there will be more than 100,000 extra foreign workers this year,” he said.
“I cannot see it otherwise, but we have to accept that.”
Experts interviewed by the Straits Times newspaper said this year’s expected inflow was still lower compared to previous years.
In 2007, there were 144,500 new foreign workers and 157,000 were hired in 2008, they said.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley said Thursday it expected Singapore’s economy to grow by 16 percent this year, ramping up its previous projection of 9.0 percent.
Lee said Singaporeans should not expect such stellar growth every year and cautioned against comparisons with other economies.
“Maybe numerically, the growth figure may be higher than other countries, but I would hesitate to compare myself with China,” he was quoted as saying.
“I think if you compare yourself with Shanghai, they may well be ahead of us.”