Expat numbers stable despite slowdown

Family club Tanderra Singapore closed on Dec 28, with one shareholder blaming its failure on the drop in expat numbers here. But HR firms, other clubs and international schools say numbers have not shrunk.
Family club Tanderra Singapore closed on Dec 28, with one shareholder blaming its failure on the drop in expat numbers here. But HR firms, other clubs and international schools say numbers have not shrunk.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

When boutique family club Tanderra Singapore, which catered largely to expatriates, suddenly shut down on Dec 28 after less than two years of operation, it blamed its malaise on the decline of expatriate numbers here.

Ms Anjuli Parker, one of the club's shareholders, wrote in a Facebook message to members that the club had been facing large "unsustainable" losses since it opened.

She also claimed it did not help that a significant proportion of its members were leaving Singapore in the last quarter of 2016.

But checks with human resource firms, social clubs and international schools suggested that while the slowing economy may have eroded the demand for expatriates, their numbers have not shrunk.

Ministry of Manpower figures also show there were 189,600 employment pass holders here as of June last year, up from 187,900 in 2015. Current figures are not publicly available.

NO MASS EXODUS

Expats are not leaving Singapore in large numbers or larger numbers than at other times. Expats are actually staying longer and putting down roots.

DR YVONNE MCNULTY, a SIM University senior lecturer who specialises in expatriation and global mobility.

Employment pass holders here draw a salary of at least $3,300.

The expats may be hired on more modest terms instead, said Dr Yvonne McNulty, who specialises in expatriation and global mobility research. This means they have less disposable cash, do not live in big houses and tend to remain in Singapore beyond their initial two- to three-year contracts.

"A business model based on catering to a high-end expat clientele is not going to survive in Singapore today," said Dr McNulty, a senior lecturer at SIM University.

She added: "Expats are not leaving Singapore in large numbers, or larger numbers than at other times. Expats are actually staying longer and putting down roots."

The closure of Tanderra Singapore, whose membership packages started at $88 a month , may be an isolated incident, said Mr Lee Quane, regional director for Asia at human resources firm ECA International. His firm's survey of multinational companies (MNCs) last year indicated that Singapore was the third most common destination that MNCs send expatriate staff to, after China and the United States.

The Singapore American School and United World College of South-east Asia have not seen a significant drop in applications.

And at social club The Tanglin Club, there is a waiting list of non- Singaporeans hoping to be members, said a spokesman, adding that its membership figures are at their "highest level yet". Its members represent over 40 nationalities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'Expat numbers stable despite slowdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe