With its open economy and a safe multiracial society, Singapore is attractive to foreign workers looking to settle down in a new country or to build a career.
But this has stirred up anti-immigration attitudes and anti-foreign worker sentiments, which the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated.
In an interview with The New Paper, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said: “This is a visceral problem for many and also a political one that we have to solve.”
Mr Tong, who is an MP for Marine Parade GRC, said he has met residents who are worried about their jobs. He tells them Singapore needs foreign nationals to complement the local workforce and keep the economy robust.
He said: “It is not difficult for the Government today to say we will look after Singaporeans only, in a very narrow way. But what will that do for us in the long term?
“We can be very insular and put all our resources into looking after Singaporeans and Singapore companies. But if we do that, what is going to happen to our long-term competitiveness?”
The need to remain competitive is vital, he said, as Singapore’s competitors and developing countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia are catching up.
There is also the issue of Singapore’s ageing population.
“In 2030, the number of people aged over 65 in Singapore will double, and that is a staggering prospect. It means our effective workforce will decline.
“Any time someone in the family loses a job, Singaporeans look around and even if they can’t verify it scientifically, they see foreign-born Chinese, foreign-born Indians, foreign-born Caucasians here working and they get upset.”
This is a problem that needs to be solved, he added.
“This is a political challenge, to have to mediate the differences between the different groups, at the same time setting a clear eye on what the long-term target must be. Otherwise, we will suffer.”
To help his constituents who have lost their jobs, Mr Tong tries to give them a leg up towards new employment.
Last year, a partnership between Parkway East Hospital and Joo Chiat Citizens’ Consultative Committee was announced to help needy residents with employment.
Through Jobs Connect @ Joo Chiat – an agency managed by volunteers that provides career advisory and support to residents – those interested in joining the healthcare sector can apply a week before the vacancies are made available to the public.
Mr Tong reiterated his belief that the nation needs to ensure its economy remains open and competitive by referencing a point made by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
“In one of his last few National Day Rally speeches, Mr Lee said the one thing that is more worrying than immigration is reverse immigration,” Mr Tong said .
“The day might come when our workforce, our business environment, are too weak to attract new innovation and new multinational corporations and it would be more lucrative for young people to migrate.
“That is going to be the start of a decline for us. We must always bear this in mind when we look at our immigration policies.”