Immigration, Population, and Foreign Workforce in Singapore: An Overview of Trends, Policies, and Issues, pp. 7 of 13

A third demographic concern is the different fertility rates among various racial groups (See Figure 6). The Singapore population’s ethnic/racial composition is commonly understood in a “CMIO” (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other) framework. At Independence in 1965, the percentages of different racial groups in the total population were 76% (Chinese), 15% (Malay), 7% (Indian) and 2% (so-called “Others”) (Statistics Singapore, 2016b).  Maintaining the status quo ratios is deemed critical to Singapore’s racial harmony (The Straits Times, 1989). Yet, this status quo is obviously threatened by the different fertility rates among the racial groups.

Immigration is no doubt the most powerful and immediately effective tool at the Singapore state’s disposal to address these demographic woes. Through carefully setting criteria such as immigrants’ education/skill level, age, and ethnic/racial background, the government is in a position to use immigration to achieve the desired demographic outcome. To illustrate this with the example of maintaining the ratio between various racial groups: in 2015, Chinese, Malays, Indians and the Others accounted for 74%, 14%, 9% and 3% of its total residents respectively (Statistics Singapore, 2016b). In other words, despite persisting TFR disparities among different racial groups since the early 1980s, the racial composition of Singaporean population has barely altered in the five decades of the city-state’s independence. To a significant extent, this is achieved through the government’s active use of immigration as a lever to maintain the “racial balance” (Jones, 2012).

Local reactions to the influx of immigrants

The rapid pace of immigration to Singapore since the 1990s has caused increasing criticism, dissatisfaction, and resentment from the city-state’s local-born residents. These criticisms tend to center around the issues of employment, housing, transportation, and cultural identity (Gomes, 2014; Koh, 2003a; Montsion & Tan, 2016; Yang, 2014; Yeoh & Lam, 2016).

Although the government argues that immigrants either take up jobs that Singaporean shun (in the case of “foreign workers”) or create more jobs for the locals (in the case of “foreign talents”), there are often complaints about immigrants stealing jobs, depressing wages, and discouraging employers from training the local workforce. Besides, immigrants are often accused of driving up the housing prices and crowding out the public transportation.

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