We are seeing large numbers coming in now. I can give you one statistic you may not be aware of. For every two babies that are born in Singapore, we bring in one foreign permanent resident. Also, one in four marriages among Singaporeans is to a foreigner. This has doubled in the last 10 years. We have become a migrant society all over again.
Along the streets, you now hear a cacophony of accents. But it is something we have to manage politically. Some Singaporeans who found themselves displaced from jobs or lost out on promotions are unhappy, and we had to explain that having all these foreigners living in our midst is good for Singapore overall.
Former Minister for Trade and Industry George Yeo in 2000
The above excerpt from an interview with Singapore's former Minister for Trade and Industry George Yeo raises interesting questions concerning the issue of immigration for the city-state. In the decade since then, Singapore’s population increased from 4,027,900 to 5,076,700. Of this total, the number of Singaporean citizens went up by 244,800 (to 3,230,700 as at 2010) and the number of permanent residents by 253,500 (to 541,000 as at 2010), while nonresidents went up by 550,500 (to 1,305,000 as at 2010). In 2011, 39.4 percent of Singaporeans married non-citizens. It appears then that more than ten years on, Singapore has continued to sustain “a migrant society.”
However, as the above quote also implies, the notion of “becoming a migrant society” is nothing new for Singapore. Since its founding in 1819, immigration has been the main contributor to population growth for the city-state. This persisted until the 1930s when domestic population growth began to contribute to overall population growth. However, notwithstanding the historical significance of immigration in populating the country, the strains of sustaining a migrant society have started to appear.
How will Singaporeans manage “having all these foreigners living in our midst” this time around? Is the situation something that can be managed politically? More importantly, will this state of affairs be “good for Singapore overall”?