Immigration should not be used as a means to shore up the lagging economy or as a step in economic development, said Daniel Goh.
Mr Goh is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore (NUS), where he is Deputy Head of Department and Convenor of the Cultural Studies Programme.
He has written and spoken on the topic of immigration at various fora in his work.
He made the above remarks to a question by the media at the press conference on Wednesday where he was introduced as one of the Workers’ Party (WP) candidates for the general elections.
“The Workers’ Party is not an anti-immigration party, we have to be very clear on that,” Assoc Prof Goh said, reiterating the position in the party’s policy paper of 2013, which was issued in response to the Government’s Population White Paper that same year.
“WP recognises the contributions of foreigners to the economic vibrancy of our nation and the need for foreign expertise in certain fields,” the WP paper said. “However, the reason for admitting foreigners into our country should be to enhance the quality of life of Singaporeans.”
Assoc Prof Goh said the party believes that “we need to focus always on Singaporeans first.”
“To focus on the Singaporean core and build that up,” he explained. “So, we don’t want a situation where immigration is treated as a way to cure whatever ailments of society, ailments of some economic policy in the past. We would rather that the government focus firstly and mostly all their energies on boosting the Singaporean core – whether it is in terms of birth rates, whether it is in terms of employment, in terms of skills, etc etc.”
The Government’s White Paper on Population – made after the general elections of 2011 – had stated that it was adopting a “planning parameter” of a 6.9 million population scenario by 2030.
The revelation led to intense debate among Singaporeans, with many shocked that the Government was working towards such a population size.
The unhappiness saw 5,000 people take to Hong Lim Park later that year in protest – it was the biggest protest gathering post-Independence.
The Government later explained that it was not, contrary to popular belief, working towards that population size for the country, but that it was just for planning purposes.
However, many remain sceptical – even as the government said it had tightened the inflow of foreigners and foreign workers.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said last week, however, that the tightening of the foreign manpower regime “was not a reaction to past mistakes, but was rather a reflection that realities had changed.”
“We are managing the growth of the foreign manpower at the pace in tandem with the growth of the local manpower,” said Mr Lim. “It’s important that we ensure that two thirds of our workforce will form a strong Singaporean core in our economy … On the whole, we want to do our best to strike this balance.”
Assoc Prof Goh said on Wednesday, “We have fought for the limiting of immigration, not to use a planning parameter of 6.9 million people as a way to help guide policy because once you set that kind of planning parameter, it starts to seep in and become a reality.”
“We have to be very conscious and focus instead on principle – the principle is always to focus on Singaporeans first and foremost.”
When approached by The Online Citizen (TOC) to elaborate further on what he had said during the press conference, Assoc Prof said that there is a need to prioritise limited resources in the effort to enhance Singaporeans’ lives.
“We have to seriously address the question of what do we want to focus our resources and energy on,” he explained. “Building infrastructure for 6.9 million people, as a planning parameter, or focusing these resources on developing the skills of Singaporeans and investing in their future?”
He, however, added that this was “not an either-or question.”
“But it is a question of allocation of resources,” he explained. “We’re often said to be a small country with limited resources. So, what are we going to do with this limited resources, this finite resources? We have to focus [that]. So focus on building up the Singaporean core.”
One way to do this was to invest in enhancing Singaporeans’ skills.
He praised as “wonderful” the SkillsFuture Singapore (SFS) initiative announced by the government earlier this year.
The SFS provides every Singaporean aged 25 and above with an initial S$500 of SkillsFuture Credit, which will be topped up at regular intervals and does not carry an expiry date.
The credit can be used on a range of Government-supported courses for Singaporeans to upgrade their skills.
The aim is to foster and continually renew Singaporeans with “deep skills that are critical for the next stage of Singapore’s economy”, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said when he announced the scheme during the Budget in February.
“We must become a meritocracy of skills, not a hierarchy of grades earned early in life,” Mr Tharman said.
Assoc Prof agreed with the initiative.
“Let’s focus on that – instead of thinking and using immigration as a way to shore up the lagging economy or the next step of economic development and so forth,” he said.
Watch Assoc Prof’s answer the question from TOC here: