The Straits Times
Published on Nov 20, 2012

Let's not treat immigrants just as 'numbers'


FORMER permanent secretary Ngiam Tong Dow was right when he urged academics in universities to "critique" policies ("Dons should 'critique policies'"; Nov 9).

But I am less certain about his views on population policy.

He said that immigration is not the answer for our declining births.

We need about 60,000 babies yearly in order to replace our population in the long term. Citizen births last year numbered only 30,946.

Mr Ngiam suggested that the best way to reverse the trend is to "appeal to the innate love for children which exists in all of us".

The baby shortage is a very complex issue; otherwise, why would the Government spend about $1.6 billion yearly on baby bonus and other schemes to boost births?

Last year, among citizens aged 30 to 34, 44 per cent of males and 31 per cent of females remained unmarried.

Also, we need to assist couples to strike a better work-life balance and provide other practical help to lessen their concerns and difficulties encountered in raising children.

Even with such help, our total fertility rate may rise from 1.2 now to only 1.4 or 1.5, as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean pointed out recently ("A population to sustain a home and global city"; Oct 12).

Let us also not treat immigrants just as "numbers". They help to counter our long-term population depletion, and slow down population ageing and the decline in old-age support ratio. Their contributions are real.

Mr Ngiam appears to be concerned that the influx of immigrants may result in unsustainable growth.

An economy will tumble mostly due to factors like a decline in investments and demand for goods and services; shortage of raw materials, labour, finance and support services; loss of competitiveness; or bad fiscal management.

A calibrated immigration will help to sustain growth - otherwise impossible to achieve in an economy with a serious labour shortage.

No employer will hire a single extra foreigner if he cannot contribute to the company. The sustainability issue will be taken care of at the company and industry levels.

Ng Ya Ken