Singapore population crosses 5.5 million

Citizen marriages and births rose last year but growth sluggish due to curbs on foreign labour

SINGAPORE - Singapore's total population has hit 5.54 million, five years after crossing the five million mark, even though population growth in the 12-month period since June last year has sunk to an 11-year low.

The total number of people, including permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners working here, continues to rise sluggishly. It crept up just 1.2 per cent, a tad slower than the 1.3 per cent in the previous year.

These latest figures are from a National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) report out on Wednesday (Sept 30).

 

It shows citizen marriages and births were at a high last year, but these silver linings could not stave off the slower growth, which is a result of the Government's continued efforts to tamp down the hiring of foreign workers.

Growth of the resident population, which includes PRs, has stayed constant. As of June this year, there were 3.38 million citizens and 530,000 PRs.

In contrast, the non-resident pool grew a lot slower: 2.1 per cent against 2.9 per cent in the previous year. Nearly half the non-residents were work permit holders in occupations locals shun, like construction workers.

As businesses continue to face a tight labour market, the Government will help businesses explore more skills- and capital-intensive ways to grow, so that they continue to thrive and create quality jobs for Singaporeans, said the NPTD.

"The Government is committed to help Singaporeans do well in the workplace," it added.

One of the ways is through the SkillsFuture scheme, which lets Singaporeans upgrade themselves throughout their lives.

The clampdown on foreign labour is set to stay but there is good news for the resident population.

The number of citizen births last year was 33,193 - matching the numbers in 2012, which was the auspicious Dragon Year. The rise lifts the total fertility rate for residents from 1.19 in 2013 to 1.25 last year.

Singapore's flagging birth rates and its ageing population worry its leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. At this year's National Day Rally, Mr Lee announced a slew of pro-family measures to boost numbers, including a more generous Baby Bonus package, larger Medisave grants for newborns and an extra week of paternity leave on a voluntary basis, giving fathers two weeks of leave.

More couples tied the knot last year too. There were 24,037 marriages involving at least one citizen - the most since 1997. Measures in recent years, like the Parenthood Priority Scheme, which helps married couples with children buy homes, and the introduction of paternity leave have helped.

"These improvements have provided couples with a favourable environment to make important decisions - marriage and setting up a family," said Dr Kang Soon-Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University.

Still, the population will continue to age, so the Government will continue its calibrated approach to immigration, taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year, said the NPTD. It has also given PR status to about 30,000 foreigners yearly since 2009 to keep numbers stable and maintain a pool of suitable candidates for citizenship. Most PRs are in the "prime working ages" of 25 to 49.

Said the NPTD: "Immigration helps to balance the shrinking and ageing of our citizen population."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore population crosses 5.5 million'. Print Edition | Subscribe