I’m not against foreigners, and I will never be against foreigners.

With NPTD’s new release on population statistics it is apparent that we are headed for 6.9M and a Singapore in which Singapore Citizens make up half of the population.
When I was a little 16 year old kid I remember looking at the U.S debating immigration issues. The republicans wanted to tighten the border, while the democrats were keen on relaxing it. And I remember wondering why anyone shouldn’t be allowed to settle in whichever country they so desired. I was a liberal from a young age.

There are several jarring differences that arise when we look at immigration issues around the world and juxtapose them against Singapore. I’m thoroughly opposed to the idea of Singaporean Exceptionalism (the idea that we have the right to act or legislate against research, data, or credible opinion because Singapore is a “special” country) but on the case of immigration, Singapore has made itself an economic and developmental oddball.

There’s a lot of mudslinging in the U.S about immigration (the Tea Party even held a mini protest on it). Care to guess what percentage of the U.S is made of foreigners? It’s 6%. Now let’s look homeward to Singapore, a country with 40% foreigners, going on 50%.

The discussion – economic, ideological and logistical – has entirely shifted because the playing field has more than sextupled in size. All across the world immigration is being debated, and it is being debated at a level so much smaller than ours.

To conclude all of this into one point, here’s a comment I overheard, “It’s so odd that the PAP is right-wing when their immigration policies are so lax”. I daren’t even say that the PAP’s lax immigration polices are left or right wing any longer because they push the envelope of extreme.

Another issue I have is that we look at immigration from the wrong angle. In the U.S 50% of all immigrants are/become naturalised and settle down in the U.S. The U.S sells the idea of the American dream, and then invites people from all over the world to be a part of it.

Singapore, and immigrants to Singapore see immigration as a business transaction, not a shared goal. Foreign workers come here seeking employment, and sell their dignity and rights in the hopes of a better financial future back in their home country. Foreign talent on the other hand see this place as a springboard. Local universities and companies get bright students and skilled labour, while foreign talents get scholarships and an international work experience. It’s a win-win for the state and the foreigners in the short run, but when the deal concludes and the foreigners leave, Singapore wonders where its policy sustainability went.

Before anyone stops me and retorts that this is anecdotal and that foreign talent do actually want to settle in this country I’d like to direct you to the NPTD’s (the National Population and Talent Division) new stats on population. Our “retention rate” – or the percentage of foreigners who end up settling in this country, is below 25%, a stark contrast to the U.S’s 50%.

But what can we do? Lee Hsien Loong commented in his National Day Rally that lax immigration was the lesser of two evils. Even the Population White Paper warns that if our birthrate is left the way it is the youth of tomorrow would struggle to keep Singapore ahead on the international race track.

And that’s where I differ with the state.

I don’t want to be running a race where I streamline everything I possibly can, to win. What if we shifted our focus from GDP to GINI? What if we slowed down our growth for awhile and solved the deeper, underlying problems? What if we realised that a high GDP also comes with a high cost of living? What if we understood that fixing our GINI coefficient could lead to a more egalitarian Singapore with lower income inequality?

Singapore has always had a knack for quick fixes, and it’s high time we kicked the habit – starting with immigration.

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