Letter of the day

Low birth rate and the dilemma of depending on foreigners

The inflow of foreigners into Singapore is perpetual as we face a never-ending shortage of labour.

The concerns of whether Singaporeans' interest would be compromised and whether immigration would unsettle the existing demographic and cultural balance are apposite (Clear the air on mayors and immigration, March 11).

Singapore's low birth rate is one of the key factors causing a labour shortage.

We need about 50,000 new babies a year to replace ourselves. Last year, births by residents numbered only 34,352.

Workers in the 15 to 24 age group account for only 30.9 per cent of the labour force now, down from 38.2 per cent in 2001.

Singapore is caught in a dilemma. Cutting down the influx of foreigners will lead to delays in the completion of housing, transport and other infrastructure. Production of consumer goods in factories will be affected and prices of goods will go up.

Quite a number of the nurses here are foreigners.

If we ask 1,000 of them to go home, can we get enough Singaporeans to replace them? Even if we can get 1,000 more Singaporeans to be trained as nurses, the consequence is that we would have 1,000 fewer Singaporeans to serve in other professions - at banks, retail stores, restaurants or in the police force. Service standards might decline. It is a zero-sum game.

Another example: There were 252,600 foreign domestic workers in Singapore as at June last year. Should we set a quota of 200,000 and start a bidding system like what is done for cars? Or should levies be increased to contain the number?

Many Singaporeans admire Switzerland's high standard of living and social harmony.

Switzerland is the most foreigner-dependent nation in Europe, with about one quarter of its population born outside the country.

Singapore's total fertility rate was at 1.1 last year, lower than Switzerland's, and unless our fertility rate goes up, our reliance on foreigners will always be greater than that of Switzerland.

We expect new citizens to be loyal to Singapore. More interaction between old and new citizens will help forge better understanding, and advance our collective effort to create a better Singapore for all.

We should not too easily blame the Government or businesses for the influx of foreigners. Singaporeans have a duty to boost our birth rate.

Albert Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2021, with the headline 'Low birth rate and the dilemma of depending on foreigners'. Subscribe