The Straits Times
Published on Feb 09, 2013

Hollowing out of S'pore a serious concern


THE current debate on immigration to make up for the declining population of Singaporeans brings back memories of the "Stop At Two" policy some 40 years ago.

At that time, the policy was sound as the world was worried about over-population.

With the wisdom of hindsight, we know that under-population is the problem today. With suggestions to limit the intake of immigrants, I worry that we are repeating the same mistake as before.

The current debate assumes that the inflow of immigrants will continue in future. But this may not be the case.

When the economies of the source countries of immigrants improve, there is less incentive for people to uproot themselves to settle in Singapore.

In China, many industries in the fast-growing coastal regions have had no choice but to close down or relocate, as migrant workers from the poorer regions are no longer available because of improved opportunities in their home provinces.

Prior to China taking over Hong Kong in 1997, many Hong Kongers applied for Singapore permanent residency as an "insurance policy". Very few came after they realised that China planned to pursue a "one country, two systems" policy with sincerity.

That Singapore is not an attractive destination for immigrants can be seen by the difficulty in getting good foreign maids nowadays. They would rather work in places like Hong Kong, which offer much better salaries and benefits.

The hollowing out of Singapore is more serious than just low fertility rates.

As the education of our younger generations improves continually, they are talent-scouted by multinational corporations around the world. Many will get married in their host countries, have children and become naturalised citizens there.

In a way, we have become the victims of our very successful education system and open economy.

Nobody knows what will happen in the future, but I would rather err on having to live in a congested place than one that is empty and lifeless.

Tang Hin Ching