World News

Singapore population nears 5 mln, immigrants rise

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s population has grown to almost 5 million and a quarter of that is foreign workers, whose influx has sparked concerns among its citizens about competition for jobs and living standards.

Police officers and members of the public watch as migrant workers from China gather at the Ministry of Manpower building in Singapore April 27, 2009. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files

The non-resident population in the financial and shipping hub, from Swiss bankers to Filipino maids, climbed nearly five percent in 2009, following on from two years of even stronger growth when booming Asian markets attracted workers.

The government’s annual population report said the number of foreigners getting permanent residency status also surged more than 11 percent in 2009. Foreign workers looking to avoid having to leave the city-state after losing their jobs could account for part of that increase, analysts say.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said earlier this month the government will restrict the flow of foreign workers after the global economic recession hit Singapore’s growth, while still recognising the city-state still needs foreigners.

“For a small country like Singapore, acquiring and nurturing human talent is a matter of survival,” Lee said in a speech on Tuesday at a conference on human capital. The government has said it wants to raise long-term economic growth by increasing the population by 35 percent over the next 40-50 years through immigration, a policy that has drawn plenty of criticism from Singaporeans, themselves mostly immigrants from China, India and Southeast Asia in the past two centuries.

The Temasek Review, an online discussion website, said in an article on the population figures that the relentless influx of foreigners had led to rampant inflation, sky-rocketing prices for government flats and a stagnation of lower-income wages.

“Will we one day be like the Aborigines in Australia?” one anonymous reader said in a blog on the site.

Singapore’s leaders have also been urging citizens, particularly the educated ethnic Chinese majority, to have more babies, to counter an ageing population and as they seek to boost domestic consumption.

But Singapore’s total fertility rate, a measure often cited by the prime minister, declined slightly to 1.28 births per female in 2008, from 1.29 in 2007, the report said. For ethnic Chinese it was 1.14, and for ethnic Malays much higher at 1.91.

Race relations are still a sensitive issue in a country that saw deadly race riots in the 1960s.

Reporting by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Bill Tarrant