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The free movement of people is not only a basic human right but also contributes to economic growth Just as the free movement of goods and capital, the movement of people brings in new knowledge and ideas to the labor market and strengthens the country.
However, the need for immigration should not be seen as the main solution to any labor shortage – real or perceived.
Labor shortages are generally cause by either shortages of proficient workers in particular fields. For example, if a school system is geared towards producing only scientists or engineers, there is likely to be a shortage of artists or creative individuals; or alternatively, a snowball effect due to an imbalance between salaries and the cost-of-living.
This is the situation where salaries for certain professions such as bus drivers or cleaners are so low that they cannot sustain a local individual and his or her family in the light of the rising cost of living. These locals then avoid jobs that do not pay enough to provide food and basic essentials for their families.
There are several ways to tackle these problems, one of which is to introduce minimum wage legislation, perhaps indexing it to the cost-of-living. With many of our ASEAN neighbours introducing a mandatory minimum wage, Singapore remains an exceptional country without even a minimum wage in place let alone one that is indexed to inflation.
Another approach is to raise the knowledge and skills of our workers’ through practical upgrading programs that are responsive to the new economy. This way, workers who lose their jobs due to competition from low cost manufacturing centers can be rapidly trained in related fields to move up the “value chain” so they are able to return to the workforce to fill up the gaps at a higher level.
For example, factory workers who lose their jobs when multinational corporations move out of Singapore could be trained for higher-end manufacturing similar to the kind of work that is still done in developed countries of Europe and North America.
Both of these methods essentially exemplify the Singaporeans first policy and will directly benefit Singapore economic growth and social harmony in the long run. The country also moves closer towards the first world ideal rather than a third world society dependent on cheap labour – either imported or local.
New immigrants who do not share our fundamental values of democracy, freedom and responsibility are potentially dangerous when they have access to our social systems. We have already seen this in some unfortunate comments in social media from new citizens who seem to look down on Singaporeans.
Thus certain procedures have to be in place to reduce the potential costs of immigration. Below are some suggestions that can reduce the costs of immigration:
Tighten restrictions on citizenship. Measures can include objective assessments of an individual’s potential and ability before citizenship is granted. This assessment should be done by the private sector level rather than by the Government. A not-for-profit corporation could be set up to do these assessments in a transparent and open fashion.
Some countries such as Australia have a points system which may be a little arbitrary. Singapore has well-trained professionals who are among the best in the world at assessments. The private sector could come up with an assessment system which is responsive to the needs of the economy yet accountable to the citizens who would fund such a program.
A transparent and detailed “Singapore annual immigration intake” report should be released to the public for feedback and input. A central system should also be in place to keep track of contributions of new immigrants, even after they take up citizenship.
This will provide a means for employers to authenticate their workers’ qualifications and employment records by observing their performance on the job. This is similar to the “provisional” plate that beginning drivers carry after passing their driving tests.
After a period, when the new immigrants have demonstrated their loyalty and competence, they will not need to be monitored so closely, just like drivers can stop using the special plates a year after getting their driving licenses.
Administrative and management fields of work should only be open for Singaporeans, especially that of the government sector. This is the case in most developed countries. There are many Singaporeans with these skills and they are more likely to be responsive to the communities they are serving than those without roots in this country.
Only new citizens who have resided in Singapore for more than 21 years and are holders of a pink Identity Card are eligible to vote at a contested election. This is similar to the eligibility of local born Singaporeans who must be at least 21 years old to vote.
An Individual must be in Singapore long enough to be well-versed not only with our social structure, but also political system. Males should serve National Service including reservist training if they are under the age of 40. This is to ensure a level-playing field and not to discriminate against those born and brought up here.
Applicants for citizenship should have resided in Singapore for more than 10 years, passed a basic citizenship test (of standard secondary school quality), provide evidence of likely continued further employment and links to the Singaporean community, and have a clean criminal record.
These are the basic minimum requirements in many countries (some use a five year cutoff) in the developed world and we should not treat our citizenship as anything less than the citizenship of a First World country.
It is clear that immigration is a complex issue. Apart from many of our Malay brothers and sisters, our forefathers were immigrants who came to this island to seek a fortune and had to contend with tremendous adversity.
They did not have things given to them on a platter like scholarships or preferential treatment in jobs. They had to struggle to carve out a niche for themselves in colonial Singapore. Those who stayed worked hard to build the Singapore we now have. We welcome immigrants with that kind of commitment to our country. Together, we can make Singapore better.
Alvin Ong is a member of the Young Democrats.