Immigration is set to be a hot topic in the upcoming General Elections. Yet, some comments on social media made by Singaporeans against immigration are ill informed. There are certainly many valid potential arguments that could be raised against further increasing the current level of immigration, but most of the ones going around out there are simply wrong. I’ll be looking at 3 of them.
1) Foreigners are stealing our jobs
This idea might seem quite intuitive at first. Basic economics tells you that if there are more workers coming in from overseas, there will be increased competition for jobs. This would have been a valid idea if it were Singapore’s economic situation where there is a shortage of jobs and a high unemployment rate. The problem with this argument is that Singapore’s unemployment rate stands at a very low 2% with high labour participation rates, and that our economy has been approaching full employment for some time. This means that almost our entire labour force and productive capacity has been reached, and that we need to either boost our labour productivity or boost the available manpower to create more output. In fact, some industries such as the service industry and even back office management in the finance industry (yes, that’s right, management positions that can pay five figures in Singapore) are seeing a labour and skill shortage.
There is no job stealing going on. Positions for which employment passes or work permits are granted are often positions where no suitable candidate can be matched in the resident workforce. There are sure to be exceptions to this due to the fact that it is impossible to match everyone to every available job perfectly. However, by no means is immigration causing any major influx of foreign workers that crowd out local employees and talent. Rather, it is the skill shortage that may even require us to bring in more labour from overseas to fill labour market gaps.
This explains the makeup of our non-resident population. A whopping 69% of non-residents in Singapore are in lower skilled jobs. Only 11% of non-residents are Employment Pass holders, making up what many people these days call “Foreign Talent”. Thats a measly 3% of the total population.
2) Foreigners are driving prices up
First off, Singapore has been in deflation recently, so no, inflation isn’t even taking place. Perhaps you may have noticed how things in malls are always on discount? Or that you can buy milk at supermarkets cheaper than before?
Second, the idea that foreigners would drive prices up is in itself flawed. First off, 1.5 million foreigners who are here are in low-skill and low-pay jobs. Most of the things they buy will not be the same things that you buy. They won’t compete with you for spaces at your favourite café or for movie tickets because they probably will not earn enough to afford the same things. They obviously will not be applying for HDB or trying to buy cars.
In fact, they will most likely drive prices down. The presence of cheaper labour makes it cheaper for Singaporean businesses to produce goods and services. This means that you will be able to get served at your favourite restaurants quicker and cheaper, and that HDB flats and MRT lines built mostly by the hands of Bangladeshi workers cost less of your taxpayer dollars. Streets, schools, offices, and malls are kept clean much cheaper and that means the retail spaces pay less rent and don’t need to charge you as much money for them to have their fair share of earnings. All this flows from immigration.
3) They do not share the same culture
This one is a little odd. I’m not sure if many of us really share a common culture in the first place to be honest. If not sharing the same culture refers to doing shameful things such as taking a dump in front of the MRT, or being rude in public, very few people actually do these things. Many Singaporeans are guilty of terrible acts as well. It was a Singaporean, not a foreigner who was abusing her mother and forcing her to eat human faeces. It was also a Singaporean who ran over an entire family of tourists and another Singaporean in a fatal accident at the CTE on national day in 2013.
Let’s acknowledge that scumbags exist everywhere, and that they’re from all different countries. Scumbags do not have a specific nationality or place of origin, they’re from everywhere. Why should we paint a whole group of people based on the actions of a minority of its members?
There could be valid reasons for people to be opposed to immigration. However, the dominant anti-immigration view is petty and misguided. If we really wanted a discussion on immigration policy, could we please do it without saying embarrassing things like “FT are stealing our jobs” or “FT are causing MRT breakdown”.