Singapore's total population falls to 5.69 million as Covid-19 pandemic hits non-resident numbers

Singapore's total population dipped by 0.3 per cent - the first time it has gone into negative territory in the last 10 years. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's non-resident population fell 2.1 per cent to 1.64 million, leading to a dip in the total population to 5.69 million over the past year up to June.

The Covid-19 pandemic also led to more overseas Singaporeans returning home, with their number falling from 217,200 in 2019 to 203,500 in 2020.

The decline in the number of overseas Singaporeans per 100 Singapore citizens took place across all age groups, but was more pronounced among those aged 20 to 24 years old, said the Government's annual Population in Brief report released on Thursday (Sept 24).

There was also a slower growth in the total number of overseas Singaporeans from 2015 to 2020, compared with the previous five-year period.

Overall, Singapore's total population dipped by 0.3 per cent - the first time it has gone into negative territory in the last 10 years.

This was mainly due to a reduction in foreign employment in the services sector. In terms of types of passes, the largest drop was for work permit holders.

These trends were mainly due to Covid-19 related challenges, brought about by weak demand and travel restrictions, said the report.

The number of citizens grew by 0.6 per cent to reach 3.52 million in June.

The permanent resident (PR) population remained stable at 0.52 million.

The report noted that since the tightening of Singapore's immigration framework in late 2009, the country has accepted about 30,000 new PRs a year.

It said: "This keeps the PR population size stable, and provides a pool of candidates who may be suitable for citizenship. The majority of our PRs are aged between 25 and 59 years.

"The pace of immigration will continue to be kept measured and very stable, so that Singapore remains a cohesive society and a good home for all Singaporeans."

Last year, 22,714 individuals were granted citizenship and 32,915 were granted PR - numbers that have been largely stable since 2012.

Of these, 1,599 or 7 per cent of new citizens were children born overseas to Singaporean parents.

The population growth rate over the past five years was also slower compared with the previous five-year period.

With increasing life expectancy and low fertility rates, the number of citizens aged 65 and above is rising, and at a faster pace compared with the last decade.

As larger cohorts of baby boomers move into the post-65 age range, the proportion of citizens in this group increased from 10.1 per cent in 2010 to 16.8 per cent in 2020.

This figure is projected to climb to about 23.7 per cent in 10 years' time.

In line with the ageing population, the median age of citizens also inched up from 42 years to 42.2 years over the past year.

Sociologists were struck by Singapore's ageing society and the reduction in the number of work permit holders.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser observed that the decline in the non-resident population is largely due to work permit holders, who take up jobs which Singaporeans are not particularly keen on in the first place.

More importantly, he said, it signals that some sectors of the economy are not doing well. "The issue of foreigners in our midst cannot be addressed simply by cutting down their numbers, without negative consequences for our economy."

Singapore Management University dean of students and professor of sociology Paulin Straughan, told The Straits Times that in the long run, this could indicate that Singapore should be less dependent on manpower, and rely more on mechanisation and digitalisation.

"That may be a good thing because of our manpower constraints, greying population and sustained low fertility rate."

She added that more attention should be paid to unlocking the potential of older Singaporeans.

"This is a group of potential volunteers and drivers of community-based self-help initiatives," she said, adding that economic activities should be curated that will leverage their skills and life experiences.

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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