Singapore


Migrants
Its India’s turn
Very soon flights to India will be increased substantially to 11 large Indian cities as Singapore relives its migrant history. By Seah Chiang Nee
Jul 27, 2013
 
(Synopsis: The current India-Singapore honeymoon benefits both countries but large immigration remains a trouble spot.)

First came the Chinese wave, now it is the Indian diaspora.

THIS trading port seems to be reliving its migrant past with the arrival in recent times of large numbers of traders, workers and students from China and India, both of which are linked historically with the island state since the days of Sir Stamford Raffles.

In a way that is reminiscent of China’s earlier influx, Singapore is turning in a big way towards India to help pull itself out of its current economic rut.

The ties go beyond immigrants and trade and investment, touching on a host of matters ranging from films and music to scholars, from politics and military cooperation to technology.

In quantity and depth, India still has a long way to catch up with the Chinese, but its rate of progress here has been just as impressive.

Come October, Singapore’s two airlines will operate 107 weekly flights to 11 Indian cities (up 21% over a year), flying 2,000,000 two-way passengers annually.

Three plane loads will come from New Delhi every day. In addition, Indian airlines will have 142 weekly flights to Singapore from all over India.

The connected Indian cities will include Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai.

However, the detailed ethnic backgrounds of the modern-day migrants are not revealed, apparently out of fear that it may undermine local harmony.

Statistics showed that by 2010 Singapore had given PR to about 110,600 Indian visitors, a prerequisite to becoming citizens. This compared to 237,000 Singaporean Indian citizens.

The new wave of migrant workers has so far brought into Singapore some 400,000 Indians and 800,000-850,000 mainland Chinese.

Other large foreign communities are 500,000 Malaysians, who have longer and deeper ties here, 200,000 Filipinos and about 100,000-120,000 Westerners.

For India, the new-found friend is seen as a possible platform to gain greater access to global trade.

On the other hand, Singapore is relying on India and its vast resources as an economic lift-up. Besides, it could be a useful balance to China’s rising power.

The more frequent air links to India come at a time when Singapore’s maturing economy has slowed significantly. It is a far cry from the golden era when growth averaged 8% a year (1965-2006).

By 2012, the economy grew by a mere 1.3% and the forecast this year is between 1% and 3%.

For the people of this city, weighed down by rising cost of living and stagnant salaries, the immediate prospect for a better life is not very visible.

Several Cabinet ministers have been talking down the prospects of higher education in getting a job – an indication the future employment market isn’t too rosy for graduates and the broad middle class.

All this has forced the government to turn more to the outside world, especially China and India, for solutions.

The welcome mat was brought out since 2006 for talented and semi-skilled Indians in numbers large enough to pose a threat to local job-seekers.

It has since reduced admission but resentment from Singaporeans – including local Indians – remains deep and widespread.

To attract talents, the authorities have done everything possible to make their life pleasant. Thousands of scholarships were handed to Indian students much to the dismay of many local taxpayers.

For example, Starhub, the biggest cable television station now operates nine Hindi channels for them, compared to only four Tamil ones mainly for Singaporean Indians.

Bollywood films have received endorsement from political leaders; state radio features three hours of its dance music a day. A special studio that teaches Bollywood dancing has been opened.

A rising number of India’s wealthy has bought properties along Singapore’s pleasant west coast. In some parks, one can see – not locals kicking football – but Indian kids playing cricket.

Little India remains a strong magnet for the settlers with its large array of restaurants and shops selling sarees and spices.

Many of the newcomers are well-educated and work in fields like finance and IT. The lower skilled toil in construction sites, garbage collection or jobs shunned by locals.

But the bigger progress is in business and political ties. India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid said the two countries are now working on the security architecture.

“Singapore and India have crucial stakes in shielding their common sea-lanes of communication, combating piracy and narcotics trade, curbing gunrunning, and preventing maritime terrorism,” he said.

The island state has become the second largest foreign investor in India, having put in US$21.3bil, while Indian investment in Singapore has reached US$25.7bil.

More than 4,500 Indian-owned companies operate out of Singapore, making them the largest business community here.

Some 100 major Indian corporations have set up their Asian headquarters in the city state.

Despite its rapid expansion here, India is unlikely to replace China or Malaysia (let alone the United States and Japan) in economic importance anytime soon.

The government is keen to push ahead with its immigration strategy to make up for its shortage of babies and an ageing population, although at a slower pace.

Earlier this year, former president S.R. Nathan said the city state is set to become a hub for the Indian diaspora.

But the future shape of importing Indian and other ethnic professionals and middle managers depends on two things: firstly, the government’s ability to manage over-crowdedness and look after the interests of Singaporeans.

Secondly, a willingness of Singaporean voters – especially the expanding younger generation – who now feel they will lose out.

Any forceful disregard could either overturn the immigration cart – or the ruling party itself.

(This article was first published in the Sunday Star, Malaysia on Aug 25, 2002)