How many foreigners here to eat your lunch?

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From Population in Brief 2013
From Population in Brief 2013

By Abhijit Nag

Remember Ask the Prime Minister? The Channel NewsAsia show where Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:”If you look at other countries — China, Vietnam, even in India —  they’re not talking about work-life balance, they are hungry, anxious, about to steal your lunch.”

Now guess how many foreigners — permanent residents aside — are here, holding jobs that Singaporeans might like? About 325,500.

How do you get that figure? Look up the Population in Brief 2013 report released by the National Population and Talent Division yesterday.

From Population in Brief 2013
From Population in Brief 2013

Singapore’s total population as of June this year was 5.4 million, including 1.55 million non-residents (read foreigners, excluding permanent residents). According to the report, 11 per cent of the non-residents were employment pass holders – foreign professionals — and 10 per cent here on S Passes working in retail, manufacturing, healthcare and other sectors. Combined, the two categories make up 21 per cent of the 1.55 million. How much does that come to?

Another 13 per cent were foreign domestic workers while 46 per cent were work permit holders, “mostly in occupations which face difficulties in hiring Singaporeans (e.g. construction workers),” said the report.

Another 5 per cent international students while 15 per cent were dependants of citizens, PRs and Work Pass holders.

So 325,500 – that’s the ballpark figure if you want to put a number on the foreign competition. For jobs, that is. The competition is flagging. There has been about a 50 per cent drop in the number of foreigners recruited outside the construction sector, said the report.

Meanwhile, total employment stood at 3.4 million as of June this year, according to the labour market report for the second quarter. There were 23,800 job vacancies for professionals, managers, executives and technicians and 28,300 for other workers.

Foreigners don’t compete for jobs only. The whole lot — 1.55 million — also need housing and transport and locals and foreigners alike will agree commuting has become a pain, especially on the overcrowded MRT.

So it’s a relief that population growth is slowing down.

Even the foreign population is growing more slowly though not as sluggishly as the local population.

The total population increased by only 1.6 per cent, the lowest in nine years. It has not been this low since 2004, when the population grew by only 1.3 per cent.

The number of Singapore citizens went up by only 0.9 per cent, same as last year, to 3.31 million. “The permanent resident population remained stable at 0.53 million,” said the report.

Source: Department of Statistics, Singapore
Source: Department of Statistics, Singapore

The non-resident population grew by 3.7 per cent, down from 7.2 per cent last year, for a simple reason. Foreigners are not landing jobs as fast as before.

“Growth in foreign employment in the non-construction sectors slowed to about half compared to the year before,” said the report, “while the bulk of foreign employment growth was from the construction sector to support key infrastructure projects such as housing and transport.”

The government plans to continue to have 15,000 to 25,000 new citizens and 30,000 permanent residents each year to replenish the shrinking citizen population.

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It’s clear, however, that the days of massive incursions of foreigners are over. The influx peaked in 2008 when the total population grew by 5.5 per cent and the non-resident population by an astounding 19 per cent. That was on the back of an economic boom when the GDP grew by 9 per cent in 2007 before plummeting to 1.7 per cent in 2008 and a recession in 2009. Although the economy bounced back, skyrocketing 14.8 per cent in 2010, the May 2011 election returned the People’s Action Party to power with the slimmest majority since independence, and nothing has been the same ever since.

If you look back, there was near-double-digit growth in the non-resident population in 1990 (9 per cent) and 2000 (9.3 per cent), but that was another time, another place.