WHITE PAPER ON POPULATION

Goal: 15,000-25,000 new citizens a year

SINGAPORE plans to give citizenship to between 15,000 and 25,000 foreigners each year, to ensure a strong Singaporean core in the make-up of the country.

The projection is not a major departure from the current situation: In the past five years, an average of 18,500 new citizens have taken the oath each year.

To ensure Singapore can draw on a pool of suitable candidates for citizenship, the Government will continue to do what it has been doing in the past three years - give permanent resident status to 30,000 foreigners a year.

These plans that mark a new approach to immigration are, however, just part of the picture on Singapore's population in the next 20 years, as laid out in a White Paper released yesterday.

The other part involves new pro-family measures to encourage citizens to marry and give birth, and greater efforts at integrating new immigrants into Singapore society.

Striking a fine balance between the two is the Government's goal, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at a press conference on the White Paper on a Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore.

"If we don't grow at all, or shrink, then we will face all the problems of an ageing population but lack the dynamism in the economy... But if we go too quickly, then we may go beyond the constraints that we have," he said.

The new immigration policy is expected to shore up the resident population of citizens and PRs to between 4.2 million and 4.4 million in 2030. This will be a 10 to 15 per cent rise from the 3.82 million as of June last year.

The citizen population, in turn, will climb from 3.29 million to between 3.6 million and 3.8 million, with the PR population stabilising at 500,000 to 600,000. If there was no immigration, the citizen population would shrink from 2025 in the wake of the current low total fertility rate of 1.2.

Stressing the need to inject new blood from abroad, the White Paper said: "We will continue to welcome new citizens and permanent residents who can contribute to Singapore, add to our diversity, share our values and integrate into society. They supplement our population, and help build a stronger and more sustainable Singaporean core."

Singapore has tightened its immigration policy in recent years, following a 2009 review, prompted by unhappiness over the flood of foreigners from the mid-2000s. The number of people given PR status fell from 79,000 in 2008 to almost 30,000 annually in the past three years.

But the new immigration rate is not set in stone, said the White Paper. It will be reviewed from time to time, based on the quality of applicants, birth rates and changing needs.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, in response to a question at the White Paper press conference, assured the Malay community the changes will not affect their position. He said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had twice given the assurance that "it is the government policy to ensure that we maintain a racial balance as far as possible".

The White Paper also identified a growing contributor of new citizens: non-Singaporeans who wed Singaporeans. They make up four in 10 Singaporean marriages a year, or about 9,000 in 2011.

Asked if rules would be eased for their spouses to become citizens, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu said: "We do not intend at this moment to encourage one way or the other."

chinlian@sph.com.sg