Forum: Rethink the term 'foreign talent'

Office workers cross the street.
Office workers cross the street. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The "condo incident" gripped the nation for more than a long weekend. Seldom does online vitriol reach such proportions, not to mention an online petition calling for the man's employer to fire him garnering over 27,000 signatures within the first 24 hours.

That normally docile Singaporeans would react with such anger and outrage raises the question of whether such resentment has long been festering below the surface and waiting for the opportune moment to explode.

While Mr Erramalli Ramesh's fate will be decided by the police and his employer, Singapore, with our characteristic practicality, should focus on the prevention of such incidents.

For a start, a rethink is overdue on using the term "foreign talent". Such categorisation for those on employment passes leads to a "them and us" attitude and results in behaviour which is elitist, superior and entitled.

Worse, it results in the formation of social enclaves which are closed off to the Singaporean mainstream.

A more neutral label like "guest professionals" would be better at putting their standing clearly into perspective.

The term is also clear in setting expectations - as pointed out by Straits Times Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong (Local-immigrant tensions: S'poreans, we can do better, Nov 3): "Well-mannered guests do not insult or patronise their hosts." There also needs to be a clear message that they are here not because of a dearth of local talent, as many of them believe, but because of the plethora of jobs created by a thriving and expanding Singapore economy.

Second, as part of the application process for employment passes, the Ministry of Manpower should introduce online personality testing to ensure that those coming in have the requisite attitudes, outlook and intention to fit into Singapore's social fabric.

Professional skills are but the first criteria, especially if they aspire to eventually become permanent residents and even citizens.

Many countries conduct rigorous tests to ensure that potential citizens have a clear understanding and acceptance of the norms of that country.

It has taken decades of deft management of a multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious society to achieve the social equilibrium that is proudly Singapore today.

Immigration, be it for employment or resettlement, is much more than a numbers game.

Myrna Thomas

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2019, with the headline 'Rethink the term 'foreign talent''. Print Edition | Subscribe