Help wanted (or not) in Singapore

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images Like Japan and Germany, Singapore faces an alarmingly low fertility rate (1.4 births per woman) and a graying population. But unlike its fellow aging economic powerhouses, Singapore has embarked upon an aggressive immigration campaign to add another two million people over the next 40 to 50 years to the city-state’s population of ...

603018_070327_singapore_05.jpg
603018_070327_singapore_05.jpg

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Like Japan and Germany, Singapore faces an alarmingly low fertility rate (1.4 births per woman) and a graying population. But unlike its fellow aging economic powerhouses, Singapore has embarked upon an aggressive immigration campaign to add another two million people over the next 40 to 50 years to the city-state's population of 4.5 million. Singapore's population already contains about a million foreigners, with another 110,000 professional expatriates working on the island, but those born in Singapore would remain a (slim) majority.

Even so, the immigration plan will be met with a backlash. Native Singaporeans of various ethnic backgrounds already complain that resident foreign men don't have to join the military, yet still enjoy Singapore's affordable housing, clean air, developed infrastructure and low income taxes. Moreover, Singaporeans fear the new immigrants will take their jobs. That's not unreasonable: Although Singapore's economy grew at a 7.9 percent clip last year, half the jobs went to foreigners, and the new plan aims to attract affluent and skilled workers. Accordingly, just over half the people in Singapore believe the government should halt immigration altogether, according to one poll.

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Like Japan and Germany, Singapore faces an alarmingly low fertility rate (1.4 births per woman) and a graying population. But unlike its fellow aging economic powerhouses, Singapore has embarked upon an aggressive immigration campaign to add another two million people over the next 40 to 50 years to the city-state’s population of 4.5 million. Singapore’s population already contains about a million foreigners, with another 110,000 professional expatriates working on the island, but those born in Singapore would remain a (slim) majority.

Even so, the immigration plan will be met with a backlash. Native Singaporeans of various ethnic backgrounds already complain that resident foreign men don’t have to join the military, yet still enjoy Singapore’s affordable housing, clean air, developed infrastructure and low income taxes. Moreover, Singaporeans fear the new immigrants will take their jobs. That’s not unreasonable: Although Singapore’s economy grew at a 7.9 percent clip last year, half the jobs went to foreigners, and the new plan aims to attract affluent and skilled workers. Accordingly, just over half the people in Singapore believe the government should halt immigration altogether, according to one poll.

But given that government incentive programs to entice Singaporean women to have more children have already failed to solve the looming demographic crunch, the authorities believe that the unusual immigration campaign is their last best hope.

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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