Immigration in Singapore: Govt will engage on key issues

Chong Zi Liang, Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Dec 15;

Immigration remains an issue that the Government is keeping a close eye on and it will continue to engage the public to hear different views, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday.

He noted that there were a range of concerns on the subject.

While some Singaporeans are uncomfortable with the number of foreigners in their midst, others feel a need for more foreign workers to keep their companies running.

The Government therefore has the responsibility to understand these perspectives as best as it can, address them, and explain why certain decisions have to be made even if they are not to the liking of some, he said.

This process must carry on "especially in between general election", when discussions can take place "without the dynamics of different (political) parties jostling for influence".

Mr Tan was speaking to reporters after a dialogue on perspectives of outsiders on the challenges Singapore faces in the future, and its role on the global stage.

Organised by the Singapore International Foundation, the event wrapped up a series of seminars held throughout the year in Washington DC, London, Kuala Lumpur and Bandung.

The issue of immigration was raised during the dialogue by American Association of Singapore president Glenn van Zutphen, who said he noticed that Singaporeans were becoming less welcoming of foreigners over the 11 years he has lived here.

Mr Tan replied that Singapore, by and large, remains an open society. But it must avoid becoming inward-looking, as it will slowly lose relevance to the world if this happens.

He added that unease over immigration was an issue that is being faced globally today, leading politicians in different countries to play a "very nationalistic card" as this is "popular and easy".

Governments around the world are also grappling with rising political pressure to meet short-term needs without necessarily having a plan to pay for policy changes.

For instance, it is always popular for the state to provide more subsidies and provisions, but ever-increasing spending is untenable, he said.

That is why as Singapore prepares for an ageing society, the Government and the people must come to an understanding, and adopt measures that are prudent and benefit the country in the long term.

Mr Tan said it is important to get this right because by the time policies become unsustainable, the political cost of reforming them is often too great to bear.

"You would have made a lot of commitments that you cannot undo without losing the next elections," he said.

"A lot of governments know what the right solutions ought to be, what ought to be changed, what ought to be tweaked.

"But politically, it's just not possible."