SINGAPORE: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu has rebutted the notion that bringing in more foreigners would dilute the Singaporean identity.
That was one area of concern raised by several MPs, including the opposition Workers’ Party, during the parliamentary debate on the Population White Paper and Land Use Plan.
Ms Fu said promoting marriage and parenthood is central to maintaining a strong Singaporean core and that allowing immigration does not mean the government takes its marriage and parenthood objectives less seriously.
Over the two days of debate, several MPs have questioned what it means to have a Singaporean core with more foreigners in the midst.
Addressing this issue, Ms Fu said encouraging marriage and parenthood remains top priority.
She pointed to the recently enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package aimed at supporting parents in balancing work and family life, supporting shared parental responsibility and defraying the cost of raising children.
While the government is "hopeful" and "ambitiously" looking forward to improving the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) to between 1.4 and 1.5 from the current 1.29, authorities are also realistic about how quickly birth rates can improve, said Ms Fu.
"In the meantime, we continue to have to address the shortfall of births, and our approach has been to supplement our citizen population with a calibrated pace of immigration," she said. "Allowing immigration does not mean that we do not take our marriage and parenthood objectives seriously."
"Members have spoken on the risks of taking in too many immigrants too quickly. It takes time and effort for our immigrants to understand and adapt to our norms. If the texture of society changes too quickly, we will experience a sense of displacement and an erosion of our national identity. We understand the concerns of Singaporeans of feeling displaced in their country," added Ms Fu.
She framed Singapore’s population as three concentric circles.
The outermost ring comprises non—resident workers — transient workers whose numbers can be reduced when the economic situation requires it.
The second ring consists of permanent residents (PRs), many of whom have worked or studied in Singapore for many years and some even served National Service, said Ms Fu.
At the core are the citizens.
"All our policies are designed to ensure that citizens get the lion’s share of any privileges and benefits, in recognition that this is their home. We have relentlessly improved our healthcare, education, marriage and parenthood, and other benefits given to Singaporeans only," said Ms Fu.
Ms Fu noted that new citizens would have made the commitment to sink their roots in Singapore.
"So, to become a Singapore citizen, they would have spent a few years as PRs and before that a few years in Singapore. When assessing their situation, we consider a holistic set of criteria. We evaluate not just their economic contributions but also their ability to integrate and sink roots into our society as well," she said.
But integration efforts are a critical complement to the immigration policy and efforts in this area are being stepped up, for example, through schools and the workplace, as well as looking into new touch points such as through sports and the arts.
Ms Fu also addressed several Malay MPs’ concerns over the impact of immigration on Singapore’s racial balance.
She said: "The proportion of Malays in the citizen population has been stable over the years, from 14.9% in 2000 to 15.1% in 2010. Malays constitute the second largest ethnic group after the Chinese, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is our policy to maintain the ethnic balance in the citizen population as far as possible."
Wrapping up, Ms Fu said: "In our deliberations on what is the best way forward for Singapore, Singaporeans were at the heart of our considerations, and a strong Singaporean core was our objective. What does this mean?
"In my view, a strong Singaporean core is one where Singaporeans have a sense of well—being and belonging in a place where we can all call ’home’. Well—being comes both from the tangibles — having fulfilling jobs and a good quality living environment — as well as the intangibles — strong supportive families, values that connect us and a collective hope for a brighter future."
The White Paper is designed to give future generation of Singaporeans the most options for a better life, said Ms Fu.
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