Singapore Will Take in Foreigners at Comfortable Pace, Lee Says

Singapore will continue to take in foreigners even as citizens complain about overcrowding and increased competition for jobs, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said.

“We have slowed down the intake of foreigners but we will continue taking in foreigners at a pace” that citizens “find comfortable,” Lee, 89, said at a conference in Singapore yesterday.

Singapore, which occupies an area about half the size of Houston, has added about 1 million people since the beginning of 2005 as the government allowed more immigration to make up for a declining birth rate. The influx contributed to crowded transportation and more competition for jobs, housing and places in schools, fueling voter anger that led to the ruling party’s smallest electoral win last year since independence in 1965.

Foreigners and permanent residents make up more than a third of the island’s 5.2 million population, and of the 122,600 jobs created in Singapore last year, about 70 percent went to workers from overseas. The city’s fertility rate of 1.2 children per woman is too low, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s elder son, said last month.

“We are in a particularly perilous position,” said the elder Lee, referring to the country’s population. “If we are not taking in migrants, immigrants, from China and from the region, we will be a diminishing and aging population.”

Squeezed Out

Singapore rejected more foreigner job permit applications and renewed fewer existing ones in the first seven months of 2012, Tan Chuan-Jin, acting minister for manpower, said in Parliament on Sept. 11. It also granted fewer permanent resident permits on average in 2010 compared with the annual rate from 2004 to 2008, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a written reply to a parliamentary question this month.

The government has made it more expensive for companies to hire overseas workers by raising levies, and in the past year, it has increased salary thresholds and required better educational qualifications for some categories of foreigners.

“We have many complaints from our own citizens who see a large number of foreign faces on trains and buses and they say look, I am being squeezed out of my country,” the former prime minister said yesterday. Still, “we are short of workers,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sharon Chen in Singapore at schen462@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at sphang@bloomberg.net

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