FOREIGN IMMIGRATION A LIKELY HOT TOPIC ISSUE THIS ELECTION

Opposition parties look set to raise the hot button issue of immigration and the visibly large numbers of foreigners working in Singapore in this General Election campaign, analysts say.

This follows a heated forum shown on prime time television yesterday, where opposition and incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) representatives traded views on problems such as the rising cost of living, foreign labor, and the future of politics in Singapore.

With opposition parties eager to capitalize on anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore, the PAP's immigration policy would be the most open to scrutiny and criticism. This is because the issue of immigration "is most visible and directly experienced by Singaporeans", said National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

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Last year, there were about 1.6 million foreigners in Singapore, which forms 29.3 per cent of the 5.47-million population.

Opposition candidates had previously already pointed out that this large number of foreign laborers are responsible for the loss of Singaporean jobs, increased competition for places in schools and an overcrowded and overtaxed public transportation system.

SingFirst secretary- general Tan Jee Say said at a press conference last week that this large influx of foreigners is "a very sad thing".

SingFirst wants to "take back our country from the Government that has given the country away to foreigners", he said.

The Workers' Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have called on policies towards foreigners to be tweaked, and offered specific alternative policies. The WP, for instance, wants to raise birth rates to replace the influx of foreign labor. It says that it recommends the government adopt a zero growth strategy for foreign labor if the resident labor force could grow by 1% every year.

In its manifesto, the SDP has likewise blamed foreign immigration for massive overcrowding in Singapore, thereby causing property prices to escalate and COE prices to skyrocket. It has proposed that all foreign workers should be assessed based on a point system and put into a pool. Only those short listed in the pool would be available for hire by firms, which would also have to prove that local workers do not have the skills these foreigners have.

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