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S'pore to admit fewer foreigners
Wed, Sep 16, 2009
my paper

SINGAPORE will not continue bringing in as many foreigners as it has done in recent years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Many foreigners - more than 100,000 each year, mainly transient workers, but also including new citizens and permanent residents - had been imported in the last few years as the economy had been booming and needed more workers, he said.

But Singapore is not expected to grow at the same rate, so it will not admit foreigners at the same pace, he explained.

"We permitted the surge in recent years to respond to this extraordinary opportunity. We always knew that we couldn't sustain this inflow indefinitely," he said at the Nanyang Technological University Students' Union Ministerial Forum.

He was cognisant that the large inflow of foreigners has increasingly worried Singaporeans, who fear competition for jobs and societal changes posed by the newcomers.

But he reiterated Singapore's need for both foreign transient workers and immigrants. The workers take up jobs that are unpopular with Singaporeans, making it more viable for foreign firms to run here.

The immigrants shore up falling birth rates, and make the nation more entrepreneurial.

This can be seen in the case of Israel, which, despite a small population of seven million, has the most number of companies listed in the United States stock exchange after the US itself, because it took in talented immigrants, Mr Lee said.

"Over the long term, we need to bring in a continuing flow of immigrants," he added. "But we have to do it in a way which is mindful of how quickly our society can absorb and integrate the new arrivals, and to keep the tone of our society...We will adjust the inflows so that we will not dilute our national identity, or weaken our social cohesion."

He also cautioned young Singaporeans against being too relaxed and complacent, as this could lead to the nation regressing into "a relaxed, quiet kampung" again.

huichieh@sph.com.sg


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