Sunday, November 26, 2006

Durian Daily 34: Emigration

EmigrationWorsening numbers
By Seah Chiang Nee.Jan 30, 2005

I ATTENDED a private reunion dinner with a dozen families recently and left with a first-hand insight into one of Singapore's foremost problems.It set me thinking. This year, the republic celebrates its 40th National Day; what will it be like in another 40 years?

How much of today's Singapore and Singaporeans will remain?
The ladies that evening had gone to the same school in the late 60s and were now mothers (and a few grandmothers) with children aged 20 to 28.
As the night wore on, I found out that the majority of their offspring were graduates or studying in universities, half of them overseas.

I soon learned that most had every intention of remaining abroad. The parents, mostly conservative people, had spoken of it matter-of-factly, as if it was a natural thing to do. From a handful, the number of Singaporean emigrants has turned into a torrent as globalisation intensified and jobs became harder to come by in Singapore.

Some are looking for more space, a freer lifestyle and bigger opportunities - what they think smallish Singapore cannot give.

All this - rising migration and a low birth rate - has become Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's biggest challenge, totally different problems his father encountered.
It will change Singapore's demography and its future.

Consider this: every year, 6,000 to 7,000 Singaporeans leave to settle down overseas, including many professionals. This is 15% of today's annual births, probably the highest proportion in the world.

One website survey, which is unverified, has put Singapore's average outflow at 26.11 migrants per 1,000 citizens, the second highest in the world - next only to East Timor (51.07).
Fortunately, the loss is replaced by the influx of foreigners, numerically speaking. For every one who leaves, three or four outsiders flock in to take his place.

For Singapore, it will mean a larger population and a weaker national cohesion. The "foreign" content will steadily increase as the "local" portion declines.
These recent developments offer little hope for improvement:

* Nearly half of all Singaporeans do not think they need to be a resident to be emotionally rooted to the country.
* Six out of 10 undergraduates said they wanted to go abroad to live or work mostly for better economic and job prospects, and enjoy a higher quality of life with less stress. About 7% attributed it to a lack of sense of belonging.
* An ACNielsen poll showed 21% of Singaporeans, mainly professionals, were considering emigration, half opting for Australia and New Zealand.
* Between 100,000 and 150,000 Singaporeans are studying, working or in business in foreign countries; leaders fear that many of them will not return.

This failure to build a strong-enough sense of belonging is ironic considering the state's rapid growth.
In 40 years, it has shot from a backwater to one of Asia's richest economies, with living standards envied by many.
The dilemma has led to calls for a redefinition of the word "citizen" to include Singaporeans who have become foreign citizens or PRs, if they retain a strong emotional home link. This is short of dual citizenship which is rejected by the government.

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