Parliamentary reply by Minister Josephine Teo on the Adjournment Motion on Rational Immigration Policy
THIRTEENTH PARLIAMENT OF SINGAPORE
THURSDAY, 26 MARCH 2020
Mrs Josephine Teo (for the Prime Minister):
I thank Assoc Prof Theseira for his views and suggestions. I must add that I really admire his mental acrobatics.
This Government is focused not just on the present but also on building a future of opportunities for Singaporeans. Because of our low birth rates and ageing, we face serious challenges. Over the longer term, we aim for a stable and sustainable population. These are not pleasant platitudes. This is essential to keep our society strong and our economy vibrant, both of which are important foundations to improve the lives of Singaporeans. We take in a stable and calibrated flow of new immigrants to moderate the impact of an aging citizen population, and prevent it from shrinking over time.
Our immigration policy does not serve just economic objectives. Rather, we want to build a strong and resilient Singapore, with a distinct sense of national identity and common destiny. We therefore prioritise new immigrants with the ability to integrate well into our society, and who have expressed their commitment to sinking roots here.
Applicants who can make good economic contributions are certainly welcome, but that is not the sole criterion we consider. Many of our new Permanent Residents (PR) and Citizens have family ties with Singaporeans. Most have lived here for many years, formed friendships with locals and are active in the community. From an integration standpoint, these ties are very valuable and we cannot put a number to it easily, we cannot quantify it through any simple metric.
Assoc Prof Theseira pointed out that PRs generally have higher incomes and qualifications than existing citizens. In the first place, that may be a rather narrow way to think of PRs and to characterise them, and really not at all what we set out to achieve. As I pointed out earlier, we prioritise those with the ability to integrate well into our society, and who have expressed their longer term commitment to Singapore. Secondly, are we better off if the opposite were true, that PRs generally have lower incomes and qualifications? Keep in mind that we draw new citizens from the pool of PRs. If that were so, Assoc Prof Theseira, or anyone else, might well ask, quite legitimately, why we are taking in Permanent Residents who are not as well qualified as Singaporeans or were not doing as well as Singaporeans. So this debate won’t end no matter how much research we do and no matter how much facts and data we put out. We do actually have foreigners working in Singapore who generally earn less and are not as well qualified as Singaporeans. They are here on work passes, and do not have long-term residency rights.
While we do take in a calibrated number of PRs and new citizens, we are first and foremost focused on improving citizens’ lives. There is a very broad spectrum of things we do to uplift our people, and that includes raising educational attainment and growing incomes. Our people have shown consistently that when given the opportunities, they are willing to make the effort and they do well. If while we improve our own educational attainments and incomes, we also manage to attract people with good qualifications and incomes to join our Singapore family as PRs and eventually citizens, is that not a good outcome? Rationally, one would think so. But of course, you can disagree.
In any case, we review our immigration policies regularly, to ensure that they remain relevant. If we come across good research that can help us in policy thinking, we would certainly look into them deeply and welcome useful suggestions. Today, Singapore is in a good position. Every year, the number of applications for PR and citizenship far exceed the number of places that we grant. We can afford to remain selective as long as Singapore continues to be an attractive and welcoming place for immigrants.
However, we cannot take for granted that this will always be so. We must bear in mind this reality as we plan ahead, to secure a better future for current and future generations of Singaporeans.