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     Singapore needs 60,000 babies yearly but gets 35,500 only

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(4) Engaging Overseas Singaporeans has never featured too prominently in the Government's agenda. What does the Government hope to achieve in its efforts to engage Overseas Singaporeans?

The Government has always tried to keep in touch with and assist Singaporeans who are overseas. We have encouraged the setting up of overseas Singaporean clubs and students' associations. We also set up Contact Singapore in 1997 and our overseas missions (embassies, high commissions and consulates as well as economic agencies with overseas offices) have various activities to reach out to Overseas Singaporeans (or "OS"). We can do more and we must, given the growing size of our Overseas Singaporean diaspora.

2 The Singapore Department of Statistics recently estimated the number at 143,000 as of December 2005, but this is likely to be on the conservative side and the number will continue to grow as more Singaporeans venture abroad. About 59 per cent of OS are in the age range of 20-39. These are young adults who are very mobile and can adapt to different places and challenges easily. We educated them in the English language and this enables them to fit into any country in the world. OS are part of our Singapore family. While they are overseas, we want them to stay engaged and connected to Singapore. They are our ambassadors flying our flag. When they are ready to return to Singapore, we will facilitate and welcome them back.

3 This is why we have set up the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU). The OSU drives, coordinates and monitors the efforts of our various agencies in their engagement of OS. The OSU works with and through partners in the public, private and people sectors. Its vision is to facilitate the coming together of an inter-connected OS diaspora with Singapore at its core. Our OS are our ambassadors and valuable assets overseas. When they do well, they do us proud. We should celebrate their successes and welcome them home when they so decide to return.

4 Among those who are still overseas, we have Loke Wai San, a financier working in San Francisco who is the President of the local chapter of the Singapore-American Business Association (SABA), and Andrew Wee, one of the founders of the Singapore Expatriates of the Americas (SEA) and an active leader of the OS community in the Bay Area. There is also Nicholas Song, one of the select few admitted into the Bar in Singapore, US and UK. He is currently working in China as an attorney at the well-known Vinson and Elkins International Law Firm. Among the OS students, we have Dale Tan, who is currently studying Computer and Biotechnology Engineering in Sydney and heads the Singapore Students' Association in his university. All of them have been working actively with OSU to connect Singaporeans with one another and back home.

5 I am very happy to note that many OS remain very connected and committed to contributing to Singapore. One of them, Hizam Haron, a graduate from NAFA who now runs a very successful design company in San Francisco, was so excited when he read about the launch of the OSU in London that he immediately contacted the unit's Director and asked to be part of this new and exciting venture to engage the OS community. Hizam, whose designs have been selected for display at the prestigious San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)'s Architecture and Design Permanent Collection, is responsible for designing the brand mark for all our OS programmes. We hope that this brand mark, by an OS for all OS, will become a symbol that identifies and unites OS all over the world.

6 There are also many who have chosen to return. Tania Chew, although offered a job by a top firm in London, chose to come back to Singapore to spend more time with her family. She is now Chief Publicist with Muvee Technologies, an exciting and stimulating job which she had initially thought she could not find in Singapore. Four years into the job, she is still enthusiastic about her job and about living, working and playing in Singapore. A former President of the Singapore Students' Association in Beijing, Lin Ling recently returned to work in Singapore at the Economic Development Board after graduating from top Chinese university, Peking University. Lin Ling similarly chose to return to work in Singapore in spite of offers to work in China, including one from the Sun Media Group (headed by Chinese media personality Yang Lan), where she had interned during her final year in Beijing.

4 The number of births has increased from 35,135 in 2004 to 35,528 in2005, a positive reversal after four years of consecutive declines. The number of births in the first six months of 2006 (17,314) is also higher than that inthe corresponding period in 2005 (17,075). [Birth figures based on number of births occurred in the year of reference are more indicative of birth trends; number of births registered would include births occurred in the previous year but registered only in the year of reference, and exclude births occurred in the year of reference but not yet registered.]

(5) What has the OSU done to engage Overseas Singaporeans so far?

The OSU is a one-stop centre to coordinate our various agencies' outreach programmes for OS. Aside from other government agencies, the OSU also works with the private and people sectors to engage our OS. OSU aims to connect OS among themselves, to Singapore, and through Singapore, to the region and the rest of the world.

2 Since I launched the the OSU in London in March 2006, it has conducted a number of roadshows to reach out to OS in key cities such as London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Beijing. I will be launching the OSU's latest and key initiative, a dedicated OS portal - - in Shanghai on 26 August. The portal will serve as a one-stop online centre for OS to receive updates on developments in Singapore and the region, link up different OS communities across the globe and provide information and services to facilitate their return to Singapore.

3 OSU has partnered a number of top private sector companies and the Public Service Division (PSD) to keep our young OS students informed of and connected to employment opportunities in Singapore and the region. So far, 22 Singapore based companies, including Franklin Templeton, Allen & Gledhill, Lucasfilm Animation Singapore, CapitaLand and Temasek Holdings, have come on board to offer internships in more than six different sectors such as banking and finance, hospitality, transport and engineering. The public sector has also included OS students in the Civil Service Student Internship Programme which covers all government ministries. Another 30 companies, including the Parkway Group, SingTel and Venture Corporation are in discussions to also offer internships.

4 The OSU, together with Contact Singapore, also launched the Distinguished Business Leaders (DBL) Series in Sydney recently with Liew Mun Leong (President & CEO of CapitaLand Group) headlining the event. Other prominent business leaders lined up for the DBL series include Kwek Leng Joo (CDL Group), Alan Chan (SPH Group), Dr Loo Choon Yong (Raffles Medical Group), Gautam Banerjee (PwC) and Kenny Yap (Qian Hu). These are among the about 80 corporate leaders in Singapore that I have met in a series of lunches to discuss how best we can engage our OS and keep them connected to Singapore. The DBL Series seeks to bring top corporate leaders in Singapore to key OS communities. The DBLs, some of whom have been OS themselves, have kindly agreed to share their personal and corporate experiences with our OS and to excite them about business and job opportunities in Singapore and the region.


(6) Going forward, what are some of the programmes that our Overseas Singaporeans can look forward to?

Going forward, the OSU will be organising more networking activities for students and professionals to interact with their peers as well as for employers to provide perspectives on employment opportunities in Singapore and the region. OS can also expect more exciting events coming up in cities with high concentrations of OS students and professionals.

2 The signature event among these is the "Singapore Day" roadshow, which will include mini-job fairs for OS and interested foreigners, and celebrate and showcase all things Singaporean through exhibitions and performances. "Singapore Day" seeks to remind OS of home, connect them with potential job opportunities and allow them to do their part to showcase Singapore to their foreign friends through performances and displays.

3 We also welcome OS to come forward to work with OSU to enhance and entrench ties with Singapore. "Confluence 2006" is one such event. Put together by OS students studying in the UK and US for both OS studying overseas and local students from NUS, NTU and SMU, it will be held on 19 August this year. The event seeks to serve as a platform for Singapore students to engage in a meaningful dialogue on national issues concerning young Singaporeans. For this inaugural event, the organisers have invited Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean to be the Guest-of-Honour.

4 This is a good initiative and I hope other OS groups will also step forward to organise more activities to connect with Singapore and among themselves. In this instance, OSU has played a supportive role to the students, offering advice and guidance, and linking them up with other partners like the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) where appropriate.

(7) What are government's plans to attract more immigrants into Singapore?

Owing to our declining fertility rate, we are not able to replace ourselves, let alone augment our population. To replace ourselves and maintain our current population size, we need to have 60,000 babies every year and we have only about 35,500 today. We need to therefore attract more immigrants into Singapore.

2 The Citizenship and Population Unit (CPU) has been set up under the ambit of the NPS (as is the case for OSU) to coordinate and drive the efforts of all relevant agencies that deal with immigration issues. In particular, the CPU will leverage on Singapore's reputation for having a stable and non corrupt government, high quality education system, safe and secure environment, and an efficient infrastructural system to attract foreigners to study, work and live here, with interested and suitable immigrants being encouraged to sink roots permanently.

3 First, we will enhance our outreach efforts to potential permanent residents and Singapore citizens. As foreigners come from diverse backgrounds, we will have to tailor our programmes to cater to their specific needs and provide assistance to help them settle in Singapore. In particular, we should make an effort to introduce different aspects of Singaporean life and our community to them. This would go some way towards helping them better understand and acclimatise to life here, and we aim to entice them to sink roots here, to become one of us and to contribute together towards a better Singapore.

4 We will continue to build on our existing programmes such as those by the People's Association and foreigners' associations such as the Kowloon Club to reach out to our new residents.

5 Second, we will streamline our immigration processes and make information more accessible. To help attract and retain suitable foreigners working here, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) intends to introduce a new personalized employment pass tied to the person rather than the employer. This will provide greater flexibility for eligible foreigners to stay and work in Singapore. The Minister for Manpower Dr Ng Eng Hen will be announcing this in greater detail.

6 In addition, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will review its criteria to allow for longer-term stay for foreign graduates and adults who meet our requirements and can afford to stay on in Singapore at their own expense to spend more time looking for a job5 . The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) also has plans to put in place an online self-assessment points system whereby foreigners interested to apply for permanent residency or citizenship can check their eligibility online such that they are able to take proactive steps to meet the relevant criteria to facilitate a successful application for citizenship.

7 Third, we will actively profile Singapore as an attractive destination not only to study and work, but to live and visit as well. While Singapore may not be able to compete with other major cosmopolitan cities like London, New York and Sydney in terms of physical space, we do possess other attractive elements, such as our good living conditions, safe streets, clean and green environment, efficient physical infrastructure and excellent education facilities, which I believe will continue to attract foreigners and immigrants to Singapore.

8 We also have new, exciting developments in the future that will further enhance our attractiveness as a vibrant global city. For example, a recent poll by TODAY showed that many Singaporeans not only looked forward to projects like the Garden City at Marina Bay and the Sports Hub at Kallang, but also believed that these two developments would bring the world to Singapore. This will enable us to build a competitive economy and a vibrant and energetic society together. We will not only enhance our outreach within Singapore, but also with those outside Singapore. Countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, the US and even Malaysia are already doing it. We too should actively profile Singapore overseas. We are a small but great country with a premium brand name here and must not shy away from telling others about it.

9 Attracting and rooting suitable immigrants in Singapore is not just about making up the numbers. New immigrants also bring with them a diversity of experiences, knowledge and skills that will add to the vibrancy and energy of Singapore, provide a boost to our economy and help in our development of sports, the arts and culture. Successful cities in modern times have all benefited from immigrant talents - New York and London immediately come to mind. That these two cities have done so well, can be traced in no small part to their open culture of welcoming foreign talents. Talents not just in the academic sense, but also sporting talents, artists, entrepreneurs, writers, skilled craftsmen and so on.

10 Singapore is a modern and cosmopolitan city too; we can and must continue to open our doors to those who bring their talents and skills and want to set up home here, right here in Singapore.


5 Currently, foreign graduates and professionals with acceptable degrees and professional qualifications who obtain an Employment Pass Eligibility Certificate (EPEC) from MOM can be granted a 6-month social visit pass (issued by ICA) to enable them to seek new or alternative employment in Singapore.

(8) What are some of the immigration changes that the government has introduced so far? What are the results?

The number of foreigners who have been granted citizenship from 2001 to 2005 are as follows:


No. of citizenships granted











2 For the first six months of 2006, about 6,800 foreigners have been granted Singapore citizenship.

3 The new citizens come predominantly from Southeast, South and East Asia. We also get immigrants from diverse places such as the Americas, Oceania and Europe. Singapore will continue to welcome immigrants whose diverse talents can contribute to the vibrancy and energy of our country.

4 The broadening of the criteria for evaluating citizenship applications has contributed to the increase in Singapore citizenships granted. Since September 2004, a revised evaluation criteria for assessing citizenship applications takes into consideration how the rest of the applicant's family, for example spouse and children, can integrate into Singapore society, evaluating beyond the immigrant's demonstrated educational qualifications and immediate economic contributions.

5 While the number of new citizens has increased significantly in the past one-and-a-half years, this does not mean that the uptrend can be sustained without effort on our part. We must continue to explore ways to make Singapore an attractive choice for those seeking to transfer their skills and knowledge, and to eventually relocate their home.

(9) Does the Government have a good sense of what the average Singaporean really feels about the inflow of immigrants? Are there concerns that some Singaporeans do not welcome and even oppose immigration into Singapore?

Singapore is an open society. We welcome foreigners including tourists, students, professionals and entrepreneurs. In fact, we want to encourage those who can identify with our way of life and wish to contribute to our society to consider setting up home here. In order to do this, we will need to make them feel welcome and help them integrate into our social milieu. In this regard, it is important that we hold a positive attitude towards immigration

2 I think Singaporeans generally welcome foreigners and immigrants in Singapore. For example, the recent National Day survey of 201 Singaporeans by TODAY showed that Singaporeans on the whole will open their doors to those willing to sink roots here. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most welcoming, the average respondent scores a 6.02. This is slightly above average. We can do better. We can be more welcoming.

3 Another study conducted by Gallup in 2003 showed that support for and the recognition of the role of foreign talents in helping to drive our economy has been on the decline. Our own government surveys show that while most Singaporeans agree that foreign talents have and can contribute to our continued success, many of them tend to still view immigrants with some distrust and discomfort.

4 The common concern is that the foreign talents only use Singapore as a stepping stone. It is not surprising that there will be some Singaporeans who are not yet convinced of the need for and value of immigration to help us build a stronger and more prosperous Singapore. Some of these views are based mainly on emotional responses. However, we must be mindful that if we continue to hold back our welcome and view the foreign talents in our midst with suspicion, we may fulfill our own prophecy and cause them to become short-term migrants - why would anyone want to stay long term in a place where they do not feel welcome?

5 What concerns me is that for some Singaporeans, their adverse feelings towards immigrants could be indiscriminate and unreasonable - i.e. anyone of foreign origin, even if they wish to sink their roots here, is rejected. Imagine if our forefathers, our parents and grandparents met with similar suspicion and distrust when they first arrived. Life was already hard enough for them in a foreign land; they could all have just left if they could not set up their new homes here. Where would we all be today if that had happened? Modern Singapore as you and I know, would simply not exist.

6 Instead of turning our backs to new immigrants, we should appreciate their coming here and help them integrate into our society. This is a much better approach than to reject them. Perhaps, our misgivings can sometimes be put down to cultural differences. For example, Singapore is a multi-racial society. Different races live in harmony with each other. Some immigrants may not have had a similar experience in their countries of origin. They will need time to fully understand how our system works or integrate with us. We should therefore be more tolerant towards them as they make the adjustment to adapt to our unique way of life.

7 Similarly, when we speak, even when we use English, Mandarin or Malay, we tend to speak with our own localised accents and patois. Sometimes, immigrants may also not fully understand us. Again, we need to understand this and appreciate that such gaps will narrow with the passage of time. Even when small differences remain, this is the hallmark of a truly cosmopolitan society. Diversity does not have to be divisive and it can be a strength. We must remember that our new immigrants are here to help us grow a bigger economic pie and make for a livelier and more vibrant society. By reaching out to them, we help them become one of us more quickly.


(10) While we can understand why Singapore needs to attract immigrants to augment our population, many Singaporeans are concerned about foreigners coming in to compete for jobs. What is the Government's message to them?

Singapore has a history of immigration. Our forefathers came from allover the world - China, India, Europe and the Malay Archipelago - to settle here and build Singapore into the modern city of today. From our founding in 1819 to independence in 1965, we have had consistent inflows of immigrant settlers. Post-Independence, this trend has continued. Through the years, many have and continue to come to study and work here before eventually deciding to set up home here permanently.

2 In the 1950s, we had entrepreneurs such as Sam Goi (Tee Yih Jia Group) who arrived from China at the age of 8 with his parents and has since helped to internationalise the Singapore brand name through his food products. Pauline Ong, former CEO of Guardian Pharmacy, is yet another fine example. She came to Singapore in 1953 with her parents at the age of eight. Today, even after retirement, she continues to be engaged tirelessly in volunteer work such as conducting museum tours for both locals and foreigners to promote greater awareness and understanding of Singapore's history and culture.

3 In the 1960s and 70s, other present-day luminaries such as Stephen Lee,Chairman of the Singapore Business Federation and Chairman of SIA, came to Singapore in 1973 and Cheng Wai Keung, who came in 1974, and whose company, Wing Tai Group, is a household name in Singapore. Both formerly from Hong Kong eventually took up Singapore citizenship..

4 Gautam Banerjee, Executive Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who came from India, took up citizenship here in 1990. He told me that his decision to take up Singapore citizenship in 1990 was one of the most important decisions he has ever made. He has not regretted his decision and is happily settled here with his family as Singaporeans. There is also Dr Anette Jacobsen who is currently the Head of Paediatric Surgery at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

5 More recently since 2000, we also have MediaCorp artist Guo Liang, popular radio deejay "Dong Fang Billy" and World No. 2 billiards player Michael Gilchrist. We can expect more to come on board in the future. One of them is Lars Henriksen, whose parents are Danish and who has taken up Singapore PR recently. His company, Naga Films, helped conceptualise and set up the new displays at the revamped Singapore Discovery Centre. Having lived in various parts of the world, including the US and Europe, Lars has decided that Singapore is the best and most suitable place to call home. Of course, the fact that his wife is Singaporean must have helped too. All these immigrants have added much vibrancy and diversity into our culture.

6 Similarly, foreigners arriving in Singapore today and the days after, will continue to help contribute to Singapore's success now and into the future. For anyone to study, work or live overseas away from their home country, it is not an easy decision. To sink roots in another country is a major and often emotional decision. Therefore, we must appreciate those who wish to come to Singapore and make Singapore their home. While the Government can put in place programmes to integrate them into our country, there is only so much we can do. Ultimately, it is their experience interacting with locals which determine their experience here.

7 The issue is not so much that new immigrants and foreign talents come in and compete for jobs; rather, in this era of the knowledge economy, Singaporeans must continually upgrade themselves, equip themselves with new skills and insights to move up the value chain. A thriving economy will be able to create more opportunities for all, but we must be ready to seize the opportunities. Having a diverse and professional workforce made up of indigenous and foreign talents, as well as a strong spirit of enterprise, will enhance Singapore's standing in the global economy and set the stage for many more years of good economic growth for all of us.

8 As a people and community, we must continue to welcome and integrate new immigrants into our society even as we try to encourage indigenous population growth. That is a very important way to keep our economy vibrant, just like the United States. I therefore urge each and every Singaporean to make our new residents feel welcomed.

9 There are many avenues for you to do so. If you are a parent, encourage your child to befriend their foreign schoolmates and neighbours, be a buddy to them, play games together, and learn their culture and even their language; if you are a working adult and have colleagues who are foreigners or have just taken up citizenship, invite them for a drink, help them out if they have difficulties settling down in Singapore; if you have a neighbour who is a new immigrant, bring out the "kampung" spirit, chat with them, or better still, cook a sumptuous local meal and invite them over.

10 We should treat our new immigrants as if they are a new addition to our family. Show them how warm and caring we can be. Remember that for many of us, that was how our great-grandparents, grandparents and even parents started out in Singapore. We would not be what we are today if our forebears were not welcomed and made to feel at home in Singapore.


(11) What does Government hope to achieve at the end of the day?

If we do not make any further efforts to grow our population, we would reach a tipping point beyond which it would have serious consequences on Singapore as a small nation. We would age rapidly and eventually be like some developed countries such as Japan, when population growth would stagnate and subsequently shrink. We must not let this happened. We must try every measure to preventing it from happening.

2 Through promoting marriage and parenthood, engaging our Overseas Singaporeans and encouraging immigration, we hope that we will be able to replace ourselves and eventually grow our population as we move towards becoming a vibrant, open and successful modern city.

3 Our population challenge requires a multi-prong and multi-agency approach. It requires the common will and support of all Singaporeans for us to succeed to meet and beat the challenge. We hope that everyone can play their part.

4 In summary, our three strategies to tackle the population problem are:
- encourage marriage and parenthood
- engage and bond our Singaporeans overseas
- attract suitable foreigners to work, live and settle here.

5 My simple message to Singaporeans is this: "Build families and have more babies, stay connected wherever you are and welcome those who wish to make Singapore their new home as you would do to your friends and relatives."

Source: Press Release 23 Aug 2006