February - Immigration: Population White Paper to “fair” treatment of Singaporeans

On February 16, a protest rally was held against the 6.9 million projected population of Singapore in 2030, as indicated in the Population White Paper put forward by the government. Another protest followed up in May. The government reacted by introducing the new Fair Consideration Framework, which requires employers to consider Singaporeans “fairly” before hiring overseas workers. 

Teo addressing a town-hall dialogue, Courtesy: National Population and Talent Division, Prime Minister's Office

Teo addressing a town-hall dialogue, Courtesy: National Population and Talent Division, Prime Minister's Office

Population White Paper

It all started when Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean released the Population White Paper titled, A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore, on January 29, 2013. It was the population policy roadmap to address Singapore’s demographic challenge as illustrated by the city-state's total fertility rate of 1.2 in 2011, which is way below the replacement level of 2.1. Teo emphasised on the Paper's three-pronged objective of - strengthening the Singaporean core by encouraging Singaporeans to procreate, creating good jobs for increasingly better educated Singaporeans, and ensuring a high quality living environment for all. “However, to prevent our Singaporean population from ageing and shrinking, we will take in immigrants, but at a measured pace,” he said.

And this “pace” as indicated in the Paper would mean that “Singapore’s total population could reach between 6.5 and 6.9 million by 2030. The resident population (comprising citizens and PRs) is projected to be 4.2 to 4.4 million, of which citizens alone will make up 3.6 to 3.8 million, as the growth in the citizen population slows.”

Suddenly, the figure of “6.9 million by 2030” in a country where immigration has been a hot topic since the general elections of 2011, took over the public discourse by storm. The Parliament too hotly debated the issue for five days – the longest in recent history, and passed an amended motion voting along the party lines with 77 People's Action Party (PAP) votes against the rest. The amended motion put forward by PAP's member of parliament from Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency Liang Eng Hwa recognised “that the population projections beyond 2020 are for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning, and not a population target”.

Even after that, a section of the public, led by non-profit society, Transitioning – Unemployment Support Service (TUSS), remained unconvinced. It organised the first protest rally in February and followed it up with another in May.

The main opposition Workers' Party also joined the discourse with its own population paper with “a projected population of 5.6 to 5.8 million in 2030, of which 3.4 to 3.5 million would be Singapore citizens”.


Fair Consideration Framework

To further quail any fears on immigration, the government introduced a set of new rules - Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) – in September, which requires employers to consider Singaporeans “fairly” before hiring overseas workers. The ministry of manpower (MOM) emphasised that the framework, which will come into effect on August 1, 2014, is not about “Hire Singaporeans First, or Hire Singaporeans Only”. Rather it is to help Singaporeans get a “fair” opportunity at “good jobs and fulfil their career aspirations”.

According to the FCF, firms must advertise their vacancies on a new job bank (website) administered by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) for at least 14 days before submitting the Employment Pass (EP) applications to MOM.