Immigration, Population, and Foreign Workforce in Singapore: An Overview of Trends, Policies, and Issues


Immigration has been a “hot button” issue in Singapore in recent years. This paper provides an overview of the key policies, trends, and issues relating to immigration, population, and foreign workforce in the city-state. The paper begins by looking at Singapore’s current immigration landscape, and then examines the city-state’s foreign manpower regime, which constitutes the institutional foundation for immigration to Singapore. The highly intertwined immigration and foreign labour policies are then explained along two fundamental underlying dimensions – economy and demography. The paper ends by looking at local grassroots society’s reactions to the influx of immigrants in recent times, and the ways in which the Singapore government has since tried to address such concerns.

Current immigration landscape in Singapore

By June 2016, the total population of Singapore was 5.61 million, with approximately 61% citizens, 9%  permanent residents, and 30%  non-residents (See Figure 1). Among the non-residents, 58% are Work Permit holders including foreign domestic workers (FDWs). According to the United Nations’ dataset on international migrant stock (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2015), in 2015, the total number of foreign-born population in Singapore was 2,543,638, or 46 % of the total population. Of the foreign-born population, 44% originated from Malaysia, and Chinese immigrants and Indian immigrants[i] took up 18% and 6% respectively (See Figure 2).

Between 1990 and 2015, Singapore’s total population increased by 82%, among which citizens expanded by 29%, permanent residents, by 371% and non-residents, by 424% (See Figure 3). The share of citizens declined from 86% in 1990 to 61% in 2015.

Take for example the Chinese and Indian populations, who are among the largest groups of immigrants in Singapore.[ii] The number of Chinese immigrants grew from 150,447 in 1990 to 448,566 in 2015, representing an increase of 163%. There are slightly more females than males. In 2015, the sex ratio of females to males was around 1.46:1.


Related Teaching Materials

Annex44.82 KB

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!