But problem may not be that bad; New Singapore requires
a lot more youths to gain experience worldwide. By Seah
Jan 30, 2005
a private reunion dinner with a dozen families recently
and left with a first-hand insight into one of Singapore's
It set me thinking. This year, the republic celebrates its
40th National Day; what will it be like in another 40 years?
much of today's Singapore and Singaporeans will remain?
ladies that evening had gone to the same school in the late
60s and were now mothers (and a few grandmothers) with children
aged 20 to 28.
night wore on, I found out that the majority of their offspring
were graduates or studying in universities, half of them
learned that most had every intention of remaining abroad.
The parents, mostly conservative people, had spoken of it
matter-of-factly, as if it was a natural thing to do.
From a handful, the number of Singaporean emigrants has
turned into a torrent as globalisation intensified and jobs
became harder to come by in Singapore.
are looking for more space, a freer lifestyle and bigger
opportunities - what they think smallish Singapore cannot
this - rising migration and a low birth rate - has become
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's biggest challenge, totally
different problems his father encountered.
change Singapore's demography and its future.
this: every year, 6,000 to 7,000 Singaporeans leave to settle
down overseas, including many professionals. This is 15%
of today's annual births, probably the highest proportion
in the world.
website survey, which is unverified, has put Singapore's
average outflow at 26.11 migrants per 1,000 citizens, the
second highest in the world - next only to East Timor (51.07).
the loss is replaced by the influx of foreigners, numerically
speaking. For every one who leaves, three or four outsiders
flock in to take his place.
Singapore, it will mean a larger population and a weaker
national cohesion. The "foreign" content will
steadily increase as the "local" portion declines.
recent developments offer little hope for improvement:
* Nearly half of all Singaporeans do not
think they need to be a resident to be emotionally rooted
to the country.
Six out of 10 undergraduates said they wanted to go abroad
to live or work mostly for better economic and job prospects,
and enjoy a higher quality of life with less stress. About
7% attributed it to a lack of sense of belonging.
An ACNielsen poll showed 21% of Singaporeans, mainly
professionals, were considering emigration, half opting
for Australia and New Zealand.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 Singaporeans are studying,
working or in business in foreign countries; leaders fear
that many of them will not return.
failure to build a strong-enough sense of belonging is ironic
considering the state's rapid growth.
years, it has shot from a backwater to one of Asia's richest
economies, with living standards envied by many.
dilemma has led to calls for a redefinition of the word
"citizen" to include Singaporeans who have become
foreign citizens or PRs, if they retain a strong emotional
home link. This is short of dual citizenship which is rejected
by the government.
years, I have detected a steady shift away from an inflexible
attitude that condemned all Singaporeans who leave to improve
their fortunes abroad as "quitters" or, worse
still, "disloyal" citizens.
now accepted that they are not the same as people (a much
smaller number) who have abandoned Singapore for good.
the opposite may be taking place.
of condemning them, many conservative parents and some younger
political leaders now believe that having its new generation
working long periods overseas, without losing their loyalty,
should be encouraged.
is making it a necessary evil is the rapid change in the
global - and Singapore's own uncertain - economy, rather
than any domestic argument of right and wrong.
future lies beyond its shores and Singaporeans can best
serve their homeland if they are able to seize opportunities
unlike before, the country can no longer provide jobs for
every qualified youth.
The change in official attitude is evident. It wasn't too
long ago that it set a cap on university places for doctors
and lawyers for fear of unemployment.
with the wider horizon in mind, the goal is to provide top
education to meet a global demand.
loyalty to one's own nation is a virtue, the search for
a better life elsewhere is not, in itself, a moral sin,"
Hansen Yeong wrote in a letter to the press.
leaders like Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong may not have
changed their strong feelings about "quitters"
but they have stopped criticising them in public.
is one of acceptance of the inevitable and moving to derive
some benefits from it.
A result has been organising ex-Singaporeans in committees
in several world cities to contribute ideas and promote
business ties with Singapore.
critics blame the ruling party in part and say unless it
frees more of its control on society, things will worsen.
Samydorai, president of civil rights group Think Centre,
said: "It's the failure of the government to understand
the will of the people that leads them to move overseas."
are, however, other reasons for optimism that the situation
will eventually right itself.
the state has set a birthrate target of 50,000 compared
to the present 35,000. It is providing fresh incentives
worth more than half a billion dollars a year, a powerful
nudge to reluctant couples.
of those who take up foreign PRs are likely to return home
eventually with a more rounded view of life.
a woman who had spent five years in Amsterdam, said online
that she now had a better understanding of the good and
bad, both of Singapore (she once disliked) and the West.
the view was university student Tyco who had lived in the
UK for 15 years since eight. He found it hard to understand
people who say the grass is always greener elsewhere.
He said he was ready to return and rough it out even if
a job is hard to get. "It's home and I miss my chicken
was first published in The Sunday Star on Jan 30, 2005)