Singapore’s most important and only asset are its (qualified) people, local as well as foreigners.
However expatriates and so called “Foreign Talents” are by today supporting pillars of a society without whom a flourishing (maybe not these days) economy would probably not be able to survive very long and without whom the Singapore National Soccer Team could not have won the ASEAN Football Championship three times in the last 10 years.
(Read: How A Soccer Game Changed The Way I See Singaporeans)
From a population of approx. 4.5 Million people, over 1 Million people are not Singaporeans, having either simple work permits or PR status, which allows them to stay earn money and pay taxes in Singapore. But also to pack their stuff and head straight to Changi Airport at any time they want.
If its is advisable to have 22.5% of its whole population being foreigners and “theoretically” leaving (or having to leave) the country the next day doesn’t needs any further questioning. Not that this would ever happen or will happen, but even slowly but consistent decrease would lead to big essential problems throughout the whole economical as well as infrastructural Singaporean world.
Not to speak of all the empty bars at Clarque Quay, Holland Village becoming Singapore’s biggest “ghost town” and the National Soccer Team missing out the “lion’s share” of to be won trophies against their Asian arch rivals.
To be fair I have to add that traveling the world, I haven’t come across another country whose government invests and contributes that much into their general educational system like Singapore (clearly being aware of its situation).
Being here and having visited the university and schools several times, it very quickly becomes obvious where and why the government is trying to feather its nests.
What Would Happen If We Lost These Assets?
“If our population shrinks, Singapore will face a very serious problem.”
Those were Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loongs wise words after every try of raising Singapore’s birth rate again, having seen the fertility rates drop to an all time low of 1.24 in 2003, from 4.66 in 1965 before, most prominently failed due to in my opinion wrongly executed marketing campaigns and strategies applied in general.
Since then not even any “long term” impacts could be monitored improving the birth rate situation to date, but much more seeing the fertility rate having dropped even further to a staggering 1.08 in 2008.
The government saw the above mentioned end to this seemingly never ending uproar of the Lion City coming and started campaign over campaign to stop it from really happening. The latest attempt though, “Creating” happy couples whose task then would have been to “create” happy children…failed however.
What’s Next? Immigration!
“We must continue to promote immigration into Singapore,” Lee said. “I believe we must accept them (immigrants), welcome them and help them to adjust to our society.”
Foreign talents had become the official St. Savior to Singapore’s “population” issue. Where its own people had failed having started to discover contraceptives in a time where the government still teaches abstinence as sexual education, the gates quickly and widely opened up for the world to come and “discover” Singapore.
Very tempting though, and being here by myself I have to admit that it is very easy to see the clear and many benefits of a working situation in Singapore, combined with the countries own benefits, to make a very welcoming package one might assume expatriates and foreign talents could only barely resist.
One might assume! Because unfortunately not many wanted to come in. The plan didn’t work out as easy and promising as believed it would. In fact, the new outbreak of the avian flue in 2004, the year following those words above, saw the biggest decline in immigrants ever. Numbers dropped by almost 50% to 11.53 from 25.76 (net migration rate per 1000 population) the year before. Now Singapore started to really have a problem.
No Land In Sight
When I arrived in Singapore the government new plans of raising the population by another 2 Million people were to read all over the newspapers and me and my colleagues were discussing the issues of even “longer cues”, “more packed subway trains” and sure soon to be further rocketing property prices, not being aware of Singapore’s history in “population-increase-measurements”, which in fact would have given us the whole picture of this desperate and every reality abounding announcement.
Two years later and an additional financial crisis in the back the situation couldn’t be worse. Out of my own experience I have farewelled at least 20% of my friends during the last 6 month and theoretically applying this number to the overall foreign workers in Singapore doesn’t promise anything good.
Furthermore the shrinking birth rates as well as the net migration rate didn’t recover from the bad 2003 – 2004 drop but much more kept on declining every consecutive year. Last year, 2008, Singapore has reached its all time low of 6.88 points for the net migration rate (which means that the difference between people leaving and arriving in Singapore / per 100 / is 6.88 additional people). Seems like the “trend” Singapore is now an “old hat” in the Expatriates closet of possible destinations.
An Outlook To The Future
Since I like it very much in Singapore, and I
am sure hope all those above figures are only temporarily numbers being overwritten by a new chapter of migration and wildly copulating couples soon to be, I hope the downturn will become an upswing as soon as the financial crisis is over, the Integrated Resorts have opened and the government puts “Condoms” next to “Chewing Gum” on the list of restricted Items to bring to Singapore.
Ok, serious now. Singapore is still the second most densely populated country of the world (coming straight after huge Monaco), and the overall population growth rate has clearly come down to a tiny 1.13% in 2008 from 3.54% in 2000, BUT it is still positive, which means that the number of people in Singapore is still increasing.
This number might come close to 0% or find itself in the low negatives the following year, when in my opinion the true effects of the financial crisis will show their impact, but Singapore shall not lose hope.
Please Come Back
The country has some very important and clear advantages to offer every undecided expat on his search for the next stop in South East Asia. Those can be found in the working conditions in general (like taxes), the social system (like good and cheap health aid), in the living conditions, the overall environment, the possibility of cheap holidays to wonderful locations and in the end, still being situated in one of Asias most important economical hubs, that these days just needs to work better on hatching its most precious assets.
A new head of the governmental “Risk Management” department, clear and realistic plans and strategies for the coming years and maybe a locally sponsored soccer-school besides one of the impressive universities, might preserve Singapore’s economy from imploding and reserve the next ASEAN trophy win for the Lion City in the near future.
PS – The Experiment
I actually only came above this whole topic and decided to write about it because I did research on keyword statistics used in Singapore’s Google.sg environment.
Seeing the seach requests for keywords like “Singapore Expat” having dropped constantly in the last month and years, only opened my eyes to the whole picture and why this might be the case.