Political commentator Seah Chiang Nee rightly pointed out that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech last night was “preparing Singaporeans for a larger influx of foreign talent”.
On the whole, I feel that the Government’s immigration policies welcoming foreign talent are important for Singapore to stay competitive. PM Lee has taken a progressive step by encouraging all Singaporeans to accept these immigrants with open arms and recognise them for their contributions to our economy and our society.
However it is critically important that the Government manages the delicate immigration issue well to avoid the troubles that have befallen many other developed countries which have thrown open their floodgates to immigration. We have seen in the past year the troubles in France when many youths from its North African immigrant community went on an arson rampage in Paris, and the racial riots in Sydney between Lebanese and white Australian youths. More seriously, we have witnessed how the British government’s hands-off approach to multiculturalism and alienation of immigrants has resulted in some British-born sons of Pakistani immigrants plotting appalling acts of terror against their own countrymen.
The root causes of these instances of racial unrest and terrorism boil down to a lack of effort to properly integrate these immigrant communities and racism against them by the majority white population.
The Singapore Government’s top priority should therefore be to ensure that new Singaporeans and permanent residents are properly integrated into Singapore society. Immigrants bring in the languages, cultures, religions, ways of thinking and social behaviours of their countries of origin. Singaporeans should welcome this diversity. However immigrants must understand – and I believe the vast majority of them do – that for the most part, they are expected to adapt to the Singapore culture, and not the other way around.
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case in other countries. I spent 5 years studying and working in California, which home to more immigrants than anywhere else in the world. In Los Angeles, immigrants often live in separate enclaves. For example, the Latinos live in East LA, the Chinese in Chinatown, Alhambra, Monterey Park or San Marino, the Koreans in Koreatown, etc. Within these communities, it is not unusual to find not a word of English being spoken. I remember making a shopping trip down to Monterey Park one day with my white American friend, who, on realising that she was the only non-Asian in the whole area, remarked that she didn’t feel like she was in America anymore. Can you imagine how a Malay or Indian Singaporean would feel if he or she walked into a shopping area and realised that everyone there was PRC Chinese and all the shopkeepers couldn’t speak English? At least in Chinatown, older Chinese-Singaporean shopkeepers are still able to communicate in bazaar Malay.
Having a common language is the most important factor in ensuring that new immigrants are properly integrated. In Singapore, our common language is English. All immigrants should be able to meet a decent level of proficiency in English. The ability to speak Chinese alone is not enough, even though three-quarters of our population are Chinese. Citizenship education, which should cover the history of Singapore and the importance of maintaining racial harmony, is critical if immigrants are to understand what it means to be a Singaporean. This citizenship education should not only be required of those who apply for citizenship, but also for the many more who apply for permanent residence (PR).
In addition, since the Government’s stated rationale for its liberal immigration policy is to attract foreign talent to settle in Singapore and contribute to our economy, this policy should also be race-blind. Many Singaporeans suspect that the influx of Chinese nationals in recent years is somehow to make up for the very low fertility rate of Chinese-Singaporeans (currently 1.08 children per woman) and to maintain our current racial balance. As PM Lee has pointed out, PRC Chinese are not the same as Chinese-Singaporeans. They should therefore be accorded no more advantages than prospective immigrants from India, the Philippines or Myanmar.
The best way to ensure an objective, race-blind and transparent immigration policy is to adopt a points system. In Australia, people who wish to apply for PR have to accumulate the required number of points to satisfy immigration requirements under the Skilled Immigration Points Calculator. Among these requirements are age, English proficiency, skills, work experience and occupation. Singapore’s immigration requirements, while generally believed to focus on these same requirements, are much more opaque. The Singapore immigration authorities do not divulge their reasons for any rejections of PR applications, presumably to save themselves the need to explain any “politically-incorrect” reasons for rejection. This needs to change if we want to market ourselves to the world as a country that is race-blind and founded on meritocracy.
Singapore was built up on the strength of its immigrants. A liberal immigration policy could benefit Singapore, not just economically, but socially as well, as it adds to our diversity and our strength as a global city. It will expand native-born Singaporeans’ horizons and imbue in them a global mindset which will give them a distinct advantage when they venture abroad for business. However, the floodgates should not be opened too wide to allow any Tang, Teck or Ali to enter Singapore. New PRs and Singaporeans should also be actively integrated into Singapore society and must never be allowed to develop racial enclaves to the exclusion of native-born Singaporeans.