Anxieties over foreign work pass holders being addressed; S'pore cannot turn inwards: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he recognised the worries that Singaporeans have over competition for jobs. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans' anxieties over foreign work pass holders are being addressed, and the Government has to adjust its policies to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners here, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"If we do this well, we can continue to welcome foreign workers and new immigrants, as we must. Turning inwards is against our fundamental interests," he added in his televised National Day message on Sunday (Aug 8).

He said Singaporeans understand the need to welcome the talent and expertise that the economy requires to grow. These include work pass holders who contribute towards expanding the economy and creating more opportunities for Singapore.

"When we complement our own workforce with skills from around the world, more companies will invest here, and this then creates more jobs for Singaporeans," he explained. "This is a virtuous cycle."

PM Lee recognised the worries that Singaporeans have over competition for jobs, particularly when the number of foreign work pass holders is large.

The uncertainties brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have also worsened these anxieties.

The same work pass holders who reinforce the team and contribute to the company may also compete directly with their local colleagues, PM Lee acknowledged in his address.

"Sometimes, the locals feel unfairly treated, for instance, when they miss out on being hired or promoted," he added.

"Outside work, from time to time, there are also social frictions, because some work pass holders and their families have not fully adapted to our social norms, nor fully integrated into our society."

Said PM Lee: "I understand these anxieties and problems. The Government is addressing them."

Remote video URL

However, he cautioned against turning inwards, adding that such a shift would damage Singapore's standing as a global and regional hub, and cost its people jobs and opportunities.

"Most importantly, it goes against our values of openness, and of being accepting of others who are different from us," he added.

"We uphold these values, because they have anchored us, and helped us progress over the years as a nation."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.