Who exactly are we attracting?

November 19, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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This website will carry a 7-part series of articles comprising of excerpts from Dr Chee Soon Juans latest book Your Future, My faith, Our Future. Heres Part VII.

In addition, the assumption that the foreigners who choose to relocate to Singapore are necessarily more talented or skilled compared to those Singaporeans who have left is not borne out by facts. Take for example 28-year-old commodities trader Mark Wong. An American with a masters degree in mathematics from Princeton, Wong visited Singapore in 2001 and had this to say: My girlfriend would love the shopping here. Tons of malls and shopping centers with all the requisite brands. A nice place to live a pretty programmed life but wouldnt spend many weeks here. A senior Western banker echoed this sentiment: We cant get our good people to go to Singapore.

At the same time countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada have stringent criteria for accepting new citizens. Having to compete with millions of other talented nationals for entry into these developed countries, especially the United States, it would not be wrong to assume that Singapores most skilled are leaving the country while the foreigners who are replacing them may not be of equal calibre, resulting in a net loss of talent. Referring to the number of professional Asians emigrating to the United States, a Singaporean researcher said that The competition for the best [talent] is just too cut-throat and the US is winning the race hands down.

With the influx of foreign nationals, there has also been increasing concern among Singaporeans about matters less pecuniary in nature such as loyalty and duty to the state. Every year thousands of 18-year-old males are drafted into the army to perform a two-and-a-half-year National Service stint. After the period, they have to undergo two weeks, or more, of intense reservist training annual until they are 40 years of age. It is not surprising therefore that resentment against foreign nationals, who enjoy all the economic benefits without having to make the attendant sacrifices of National Service, has surfaced. The unhappiness is magnified when Singaporean men have to compete against their foreign counterparts for job promotions. Employers are acutely sensitive to deadlines and profit margins and two weeks in a competitive company, especially during high-demand periods, can make a significant difference. To aggravate the insult, foreign students are now courted by the Singapore government with $60,000, bond-free scholar-ships when local scholars are tied down to as many as eight years in their scholarship bonds and, worse, publicly humiliated when they break their contracts.

Singaporeans have expressed repeatedly their concern about their jobs coming under threat from the influx of foreigners. The government, however, insists that Singaporeans just have to adapt to changed conditions and rules. This is what weve got to accept, the Trade and Industry Minister, George Yeo, states. The we is, of course, used very generically. Earning in a year what most Singaporeans cannot even make in a lifetime hardly qualifies him to lecture the people that they should accept job insecurity. Meanwhile, the economy has not been able to shake off its lethargy despite the social overhaul. The repercussions of this policy of recruiting foreign talent will manifest itself strikingly if the economy continues in its present downward lilt.

Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom is sold at Select Books (Tanglin Shopping Center), Kinokuniya Bookstore (Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Orchard Road) and the SDP office (1357A Serangoon Road, Singapore 328240).