Monday, 13 April 2015

[Today] Conduct survey on national attitudes towards immigration and foreigners

It is correct to suggest that allegations of xenophobia are often based on unfortunate Internet outbursts, as the report “Are Singaporeans anti-foreigner? Not in the real world” (April 12) did.

That said, such a crucial issue for Singapore’s future should not be swept under the carpet. The article’s interviews with 15 foreign residents were in part heartwarming and give testimony to the good state of Singaporean-foreigner relations, but some views expressed gave cause for concern.

In any case, a deeper understanding of how foreigners are appreciated — or not — in Singapore will never be obtained by such observations. Were it so, the positive tone of the article could conversely be punctured by examples of the disrespectful manner in which some Singaporean children treat their maids.

The Government’s population White Paper in 2013 and its 6.9 million population growth projection was met with very negative public response, based to some degree on misplaced fears regarding the negative influence that an influx of foreigners would have on the Singapore lifestyle. The reaction to the White Paper alone is enough to justify a detailed national survey of attitudes on the influence of foreigners and migration in Singapore.

More importantly, such a survey could give insight into the reasons behind the opinions some hold. Take, for instance, the prevailing view that foreigners take jobs that should be available to Singaporean workers. Is this true? How might this attitude be balanced against the economic benefit and social stability offered by regulated engagement with foreign residents? Information like this would be important for policymakers who might be rethinking their policy direction after the White Paper.

The Government is also taking initiatives so that every student will be valued for their individual potential. This is no doubt a move which recognises the scarce and precious resource of local human capital in Singapore.

Till recently, foreign residents have largely been viewed as units of labour, whether this is in the kitchen, the classroom, the hospital, the construction site or the boardroom. A comprehensive survey of national attitudes to the contribution of foreigners in Singapore might provide the opportunity to think of migration as a social and economic contribution.

As Singapore marks its 50th year of independence, it is timely to reflect that this is a nation built on migration. Rather than worry about transport overcrowding or the strain on welfare infrastructure, a national survey could educate. It could help Singaporeans reflect on the positive contributions from foreign workers and residents to the country, and how they can be more seamlessly incorporated into the Singaporean identity as it progresses into the next half century.

Going by the dire warnings associated with falling birth rates and rising aged care costs, this reflection is not just a matter of preference, but an inescapable national priority.