Gap between citizen and PR widens

Changes pushing some towards citizenship, but others looking beyond hard-nosed calculations

Indonesian Erick Oei, 44, with his wife, Madam Luana Wati Halim, 42, and daughters Samantha Gedalya (left), 12, and Shanice Abigail, 16. Madam Luana and her daughters became Singapore citizens last year. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Indonesian Erick Oei, 44, with his wife, Madam Luana Wati Halim, 42, and daughters Samantha Gedalya (left), 12, and Shanice Abigail, 16. Madam Luana and her daughters became Singapore citizens last year. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Ms Hoo Kai Peng, who has lived here for more than 20 years and been a permanent resident for almost as long, has witnessed the growing list of measures to differentiate between citizens and PRs in recent years.

With her youngest son starting Primary 1 next year, she decided to start thinking about taking up citizenship to give him a better chance of getting into the school of their choice. Married to a fellow Malaysian PR who works in engineering, the 43-year-old put in her application three months ago.

Referring to last year's ruling which gives absolute priority for citizens when there are more applicants than places in a school, the accounts manager said: "It will be hard to get a place in school if we are PRs."

School fees for her three children were also another factor, as these rose by between $50 and $80 a month for PRs this year.

Education is not the only area in which PRs stand behind citizens in the line. Over the past two years, there have been changes in health care and housing as well, as the Government moved to sharpen the distinctions between citizens and PRs in the wake of citizens' unease over increased immigration.

Just last week, a three-year waiting period was imposed on new PRs before they can buy resale public flats. Previously, there was no restriction.

These measures, coming one after another, may push more PRs like Ms Hoo to apply to be citizens, or translate into fewer applications for permanent residency.

Still, of the 12 PRs and newly minted citizens interviewed by The Sunday Times, only two said the policy changes would be a major factor in their decision.

Applying for citizenship has more to do with believing that they can make Singapore their long- term home rather than hard-nosed calculations of how they can benefit from having a pink identity card, they said.

Madam Luana Wati Halim, 42, who became a citizen last year along with her two daughters, explained her choice like this: "We've lived here for so many years, and the children grew up here too."

The family is from Indonesia, but younger daughter Samantha Gedalya, a Primary 6 pupil at Zhonghua Primary, said with a smile: "My friends always thought that I was Singaporean."

Other PRs, especially those earning more, said they do not feel pressured to take up citizenship because the policy changes largely do not affect them.

Dearer school fees, for instance, do not affect Mr Tom Bennett, 37, a Briton who works in IT compliance. His two children attend the international school where his wife teaches.

Some PRs said they have plans to return to their home country in the medium to long term.

Housewife Harshini Sudarshan, a 30-year-old from India, said some of her friends "clearly don't want to be citizens" and so the changes do not affect them. She is also content to remain a PR for now.

As for foreigners who decide to take up PR, many point instead to job security as a major factor, meaning that the recent policy changes may not have much of an impact on this category.

For instance, 28-year-old Malaysian curriculum developer Lynn Chan's choice to become a PR was partly to "have a measure of security beyond that of an Employment Pass (EP)".

The tightening of the foreign worker policy means EP holders face greater uncertainty over whether their work passes will be renewed. PRs do not need work passes, and hence avoid that worry.

Meanwhile, political watchers such as Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Leong Chan-Hoong, who studies immigration issues, said the tweaks would provide reassurance to born-and- bred Singaporeans who are growing uneasy about the value of their citizenship.

Nominated MP Eugene Tan said: "I think the stronger differentiation... can have the effect of providing assurance to Singaporeans that citizenship is a precious right."

But Dr Terence Chong from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies felt citizenship should go "beyond the material" and said: "It would be ironic that by giving citizens more privileges, we would be saying that all it means to be Singaporean is the longer entitlement list."

Additional reporting by Rachel Chang

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