From ’200,000 Singaporeans living abroad’, article by Theresa Tan, 14 Oct 2012, Sunday Times.
The number of Singaporeans living abroad has risen sharply over the past decade, with Australia, Britain, the United States and China being their main destinations. There were 200,000 citizens overseas as of June – a 27 per cent increase from 157,100 in 2003.
Most are between 20 and 54 years old, with slightly more women than men, stated the Population in Brief 2012 report published by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) last month. The figures refer to citizens with a registered foreign address or those who have been away for a cumulative period of at least six months in the past year.
…Economists interviewed said Singapore’s brain drain is more a social and political problem, rather than an economic one, as the outflow of local expertise is matched by an inflow of foreigners, so the country is not short of skilled manpower.
…The countries with the biggest number of Singaporeans are Australia (with about 50,000), Britain (about 40,000) and the US (about 27,000). China is catching up with about 20,000 Singaporeans, The Sunday Times understands.
Absolute numbers aside, there are other worrying signs about Singaporeans packing their bags and leaving for ‘greener pastures’. Of those who are still here, 56% (of 2000 Singaporeans) in a recent poll ‘would like to migrate’ if given a choice, and could be among workers with the highest rate of BURNOUT in the region. A section of the Population in Brief report unveils a disturbing trend other than a ‘brain drain’; if this rate of Singaporeans leaving remains constant while our birth rate declines, the ‘born and bred’ Singaporean may become an endangered species.
Based on the above, in 2011-2012 alone, about 8000 of us left Singapore. In the same period, more than 40,000 non-Singaporeans were granted PRs or citizenship. That is, for every Singaporean who leaves, 5 times more foreigners are here to stay. The outflow of expertise is most definitely not ‘MATCHED’ by foreigner inflow. It is like a football coach replacing a player with half a team of imports, without having a clue as to whether his team can gel together after topping up his squad. It is exactly this treatment of the census as a numbers game that perhaps makes those abroad wonder if they’re missed at all, or just mere statistics in business-as-usual population management.
If you look at the age demographic of overseas Singaporeans, they peak at 20-24, and then rise steadily from 30, hitting the highest number at 45-49. Which suggests that we are longer looking at people just RETIRING to a villa by the seaside anymore, where they can sit swirling a glass of Shiraz watching their grandchildren play in the garden instead of attending tuition. These are either young upstarts or adults in the prime of their lives. We also have about 10,000 Singaporeans who may be born here but are wouldn’t have the slightest memory of ‘home’ when they grow up anywhere but.
Of the young and, more regrettably for our birth rate, FERTILE, people leaving the country, there are significantly more females than males settling down elsewhere, especially in the 15-34 years group. It would be interesting to see how many of these are married, or living, with foreign spouses. For some women, it’s not just the Singaporean lifestyle that is a turn-off, but maybe the MEN are not worth returning home for either. The higher proportion of males in the 40-85 group suggests that men leave to further career prospects, raise a family or just kick back and relax without having to worry about taking part-time jobs clearing trays in food courts because his fellow Singaporeans are too damned lazy to clean up after themselves.
Interestingly, more people appear to be moving to China, or ‘returning to the Motherland’, a trend observed among Singaporean expats since 2008. One can safely assume that means at least 20,000 CHINESE Singaporeans are not here with us as we speak (despite lack of ethnic data in other ‘second homes’). No worries, we have at least a million PRCs to more than compensate for the racial quota.
Yet, the above numbers could well be an underestimate. The World Bank cites the number of overseas Singaporeans as 300,000. In 2010. Of ‘skilled emigration’ in 2000, 15% of our tertiary educated population, and 15% of locally trained physicians bid Adieu. There have also been reports of ‘several Singaporeans’ gone MISSING while overseas. It didn’t help that in 2002, just before this surge in Singaporeans departing, then PM Goh Chok Tong implied that those who left or intend to leave are weak, cowardly, disloyal and fickle:
Has the younger generation of Singaporeans gone soft? Look in the mirror and ask ‘Am I a stayer or a quitter’? Am I a fair-weather Singaporean of an all-weather Singaporean’….Which country will they run off to next when bus fares go up in Australia?
Well, it looks like those ‘quitters’ are ‘staying’ in Australia still regardless of bus fares. But what’s so appealing about what Lee Kuan Yew once dubbed ‘The poor white trash of Asia’? How about the fact that you could own a massive house, complete with swimming pool, tennis court and landscaped garden for less than the price of a Queenstown HDB flat? Or that your kids needn’t have to take the PSLE, do National Service, or go mad studying CHINESE? That you could knock off work before 5pm everyday and enjoy greater ‘work-life balance’ playing golf? Or is Singapore just not COOL enough? It seems that in the land of ‘poor white trash’, Singaporeans could live like ‘rich Asian kings’. In an ironic reversal of fortune, it’s the Aussies are who reaping the benefit of our unhappy emigrants, while Singapore, with its corruption scandals, gaudy casinos and Grand Prix posturings, is steadily becoming the TRASHIER of the two. But like everything else in life, achieving dream living standards in a foreign country may not always go according to plan. Your business may fail, or, at the very worst, you may get tortured and killed after a very successful career in porn.
Nonetheless, something’s not right if our people constantly harbour thoughts of getting out of here, or put thoughts into action despite the risks of failure or ‘second-class’ citizenship overseas. Ironically in our government’s drive to make Singapore a ‘global city’, Singaporeans have gone ‘global’ themselves. It’s time to ponder who’s the REAL quitters or stayers, those who are willing to abandon their friends and ‘roots’ for the sake of their children, pursue their dream homes or solely for their own mental well-being, or those who hang around, resigning to their stressful lives and perennial debts, suffering and complaining like the miserable masochists that we are.
Meanwhile, participants in the first Our-SG conversation wished for Singapore to be the ‘happiest country in the world’. Be serious now, we need realists in the National Conversation, not deranged optimists who want to see Oscar the Grouch turn into Elmo in 10 years. You want to staunch the population leak with hard policies, not cotton candy and Post-It pads.
Filed under: 2000s, 2012, Foreign workers, Politicians, Singaporean men, Singaporean women | Tagged: Foreign workers, goh chok tong, Politicians, Singaporean men, Singaporean women | Leave a Comment »