Monday, 13 May 2013

Singapore’s future social mix and today's immigration policies

Until recently, population growth through immigration was a major part of the Singapore government's economic growth model. During the last two decades, the island's population has grown by over 60 percent. From a population of approximately three million in 1990, Singapore entered the 2010s with a population of five million.

Prima facie, the population growth policy appears to have worked and generated economic growth on the island. From 1990-2010 (inclusive), the Singapore economy grew at an average GDP growth rate of 6.6 percent. During the same period, the economy contracted only twice: 2001 and 2009.

Nonetheless, there have been some unintended consequences of the government's 'open door policy.' Politically, the People's Action Party (PAP) has seen support amongst Singaporean voters plummet from historically high levels. The last general elections saw several senior PAP personalities lose 'safe' constituencies. While not yet a threat to the PAP's ability to form a government, the opposition has significantly increased its parliamentary representation, including controlling a Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Another effect of Singapore's liberal immigration policies has been the skyrocketing of domestic real estate prices. Not only have prices of high-end properties in premium districts risen to record highs but resale prices of public housing built by the Housing Development Board (HDB Singapore) has soared.

There has also been a general outpouring of discontent about the impact of 'extra' people on Singapore's limited land mass. The Republic's resources and infrastructure is groaning under the weight of additional persons – literally in the case of the city's subway system. From being unheard of a few years ago, train breakdowns and system delays are now considered 'normal.' Much of the blame lies with the increased load factor and poor maintenance.

There is another side to immigration which Singaporeans have yet to fully experience: the osmosis of new and different cultures into the mainstream of the city's daily culture. The mass of new immigrants from mainland China and India – along with the odd few from 'out of the ordinary' countries like Pakistan – bring with them a different way of seeing the world.

'Mainland' Indians have different dietary habits. Their experience of the caste system's role in society is distinct from the locally born Indian. Likewise, for non-Malay Muslims, the different lens with which they view the world often provides a different interpretation regarding the traditions of Islamic faith and practice.

To be sure, contemporary Singaporeans have every right to express displeasure with any number of government policies. It is their island – they have successfully moved from Third World to First World within one generation. However, from a historical perspective, the recent wave of immigration into Singapore is just a part of the island's centuries old tradition of welcoming economic migrants onto its shores. In the process, the newcomers help transform and rejuvenate Singapore, often in ways which cannot be easily anticipated. At the very least, future Singaporeans can look forward to some interesting fusion food dishes as the most recent mass of migrants build a home for themselves.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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