Monday's marathon debate in Parliament on the foreign talent policy brought into sharp relief the issues surrounding it. The Progress Singapore Party alleged that foreign talent policies have been the main cause of job-related anxieties among Singaporeans. Its Non-Constituency MPs asserted that some free trade agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) between Singapore and India led to more competition for jobs between locals and foreigners, were instrumental in reducing opportunities for local professionals, managers, executives and technicians, as well as displaced them from jobs. In times of uncertainty, there is a tendency to look for scapegoats to blame for anxieties, rather than to focus on the real causes.
Job displacements occur for several reasons: a downturn in economic activity, which was especially pronounced amid the Covid-19 pandemic last year; the rise of automation and digitalisation in multiple sectors; and changes in the nature of work. These forces, which are also impacting other countries, have little to do with foreigners in the workforce. Displacements would happen even in the absence of such workers. Nor will reducing the number of foreigners ensure that their jobs will automatically go to locals. On the contrary, overly restrictive policies would shrink the overall talent pool here, reduce the economy's growth trajectory and deter firms from making or expanding investments, which would reduce opportunities for Singaporeans.