The SingBAB and the Impossible Integration

September 26, 2008

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s population hit 4.84 million in June this year, marking a 5.5 per cent increase from a year before. The figure is buoyed by an increasing number of foreigners in the country, boosted by strong economic growth over the past few years.

The number of non-residents grew by 19 per cent, while the resident population went up by a mere one per cent.

 [Channelnews Asia, “Population grew to 4.84 million, boosted by strong non-resident growth”, 26 Sept 2008]


There are four fears that will emanate from the above CNA report that need to be addressed.


Fear #1: With the steady influx of foreigners growing at a whopping 19 per cent a year, it’s only a matter of time before Singaporeans are going to be in the minority in their own country.


This is of course a mathematical certainty but only on the assumption that there will be no cap on population growth. We have an optimal figure for the population. This optimal figure will ensure that we reach the maximum number of people on this island and yet enjoy a decent quality of life without public transport, public spaces, housing and services being choked up by demand. This magical figure is between 5 million and 8 million, depending on which idiot PAP minister you ask. But since MM Lee has actually said that he is “not sold” on 6.5 million, and projects the optimal figure to be between 5 to 5.5 million, we can assume that that’s the figure the policy-makers are working with given that he’s still the most important man in the country. So rest assured, Singaporeans will not be outnumbered by foreigners. (Unless of course the figure is revised to 8 million after MM Lee conks off, in that case all bets are off).





Fear #2: Foreigners will steal our jobs!


Survey after survey, anecdote after anecdote, it has become clear that this is a myth. Foreigners do the jobs that Singaporeans do not want to do. A friend of mine used to work in the job-matching department at MOM. Her job was to look for jobs for unemployed Singaporeans. Her biggest complaints? Singaporeans don’t want to work shifts, don’t want to work in far flung places like Jurong, Tuas or Changi. The jobs were there but there were no local takers. Singaporeans are fussy, foreigners are not, it’s really that simple.



Fear #3: More foreigners mean more crime!


Let’s be honest. When we say this we don’t mean the white expatriate foreign talent. We don’t mean the ang mo in office attire. Instead, we mean the Bangladeshi worker, the Thai worker, the PRC worker, the Myanmar worker. In short, we are racists. We are happy with ang mos walking down Orchard Road ogling the giggling SPGs but suddenly turn all vigilant when the Bangladeshi workers do it. This is worse than racism; its racism disguised as class politics.


But the truth is, foreigners are not responsible for a spike in crime. Singaporeans are still responsible for the bulk of crime. In fact, crime committed by foreigners has decreased.





Fear #4: The growing number of new citizens and PRs means that there will be a growing gulf between them and Singaporeans born and bred here (or SingBABs).


This fear, unfortunately, is well founded. The above CNA report went on to note:


There are also more new Permanent Residents (PRs) and citizens. In the first half of this year, 34,800 were granted PRs. That’s up by some 20 per cent from the same period last year.

Meanwhile, 9,600 were granted citizenship, up by some 30 per cent, compared to the year before. And nearly seven in 10 new PRs aged 20 and above had post-secondary qualifications. Moving forward, the Secretariat said integration would be a key challenge.


Let me go one up and say that integration will be impossible. New citizens and PRs are not here because they were born here or have childhood memories rooted to the physical landscape. They are here because they enjoy the ‘System’. By System, I mean the political system, the economic system, the cultural system, the way things are structured. That is why new citizens are more likely to be pro-PAP than SingBABs. And that is why they are the most likely to return to their country of origin should things turn sour.


Some studies into new citizens have been done by NUS students. Focus groups have shown that many new citizens see the Singapore passport as mere stepping stone to other economies like the US or UK.


Furthermore, we are already hearing of NRIs or PRs in Singapore not mixing with their ethnic counterparts. Integration is going to be more elusive in a cosmopolitan society when new citizens find that they have more in common with other foreigners than SingBABs. Surely a British-born Singapore citizen will have more in common with his British expatriate friends in terms of food, politics, history than a heartlander from Toa Payoh.


Lastly, many of us SingBABs grew up with several common reference points. The national stadium, the Van Kleef Aquarium, the former national library, the Malaysian Cup, national service, Singapore Swing, PSLE, hantum bola and so on. These are reference points that give us collective identity and empathy. Only SingBABs share this. New citizens do not.


The fear is real. With more and more new citizens and PRs, and with more SingBABs living overseas, our idea and memory of Singapore and what it means to be Singaporean is going to change beyond recognition. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on you. 



3 Responses to “The SingBAB and the Impossible Integration”

  1. […] a Dying Breed – groundnotes: The SingBAB and the Impossible Integration [Thanks James] – My sketchbook: Singapore new population […]

  2. Eve Says:

    It might be interesting to recall what a young nation we are- less than 2 lifetimes ago, many of our grandparents were themselves immigrants from China or India seeking a better life. What right have we got to turn up our noses at people seeking a better system? We SingBABs have enjoyed the good life only thanks to the luck we’ve had.. My friends from other countries have asked me, ‘what has Singapore done to be so successful in such a short time?’ and the truth is, we’ve been lucky (besides having hardworking ancestors, of course, but i don’t know that we can say we are ourselves more meritorious or hardworking than anyone else)… it’s true that we have many common experiences, and this shared experience that builds the national identity is also something that has been a feat to create: a oneness from the multiplicity of immigrant peoples. Let’s treasure this, but not forget that we have a duty to welcome those less fortunate than we.

  3. Quen Says:

    I don’t really agree about the last fear, Singapore is suposed to be a multicultural country which has known different migration flow. for exemple 78% of population now are chinese, but Singapore isn’t the land of chinese right? those new migrants strengthen the Multicultural aspect of Singapore.
    Concerning the integration, the first chinese and indians who came to singapore also didn’t have childhood memories in the country. maybe the first generation of the new citizen will be the same, but their children would have memories and will see Singapore as the land of their childhood. it is just a matter of time. This kind of problem happen everywhere, especially in USA where maybe 99% of population are from the migration.

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