They yearn to call S’pore home, but PR or citizenship still elusive for some foreigners
Singaporeans whom TODAY spoke said they welcome foreigners, so long as the inflow is well-managed by the Government — with companies not turning to hiring foreigners as the easy way out or the cheaper option — and the foreigners make efforts to assimilate into Singapore society.
SINGAPORE – Having previously lived in Malaysia, Brunei and the United Kingdom, Ms Thaya Than Tun, a consultant at a global recruitment agency, said she has fallen in love with the Republic — her “home away from home” for the last 2.5 years.
“It is systematic, safe and clean. Everything is easily accessible,” said Ms Than Tun, 30, who hails from Myanmar.
Although she had her application for permanent residency rejected last year by the Singapore authorities, she is determined to sink her roots here.
Ms Thaya Than Tun, 30, has been staying in Singapore for 2.5 years. Born in Malaysia and lived in various countries around the world such as Brunei and the United Kingdom, she has taken to Singapore in the short period so much so that she looks to get PR here. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY
Like Ms Than Tun, some foreigners have found it more difficult to become a Permanent Resident or Singapore citizen after the Government tightened the inflow of immigrants following the 2011 General Election, where the influx of foreigners was among the hot button issues.
Ms Margaret Yang, 30, was among the more fortunate ones. She came here from Wuhan, China, on a Singapore government scholarship in 2005 at the age of 17. Six months after starting her first job in 2011, she managed to get her PR. In January last year, she became a Singapore citizen. “I was lucky,” said Ms Yang, who is working as a market analyst after serving her bond with the Government.
But she noted that most of her friends from abroad were unable to get their PR. “My friends who came after 2010, it was very tough for them to get it. Even with a Master’s degree, or them coming from top-tier schools overseas and (earning) a well-paid salary, they could not get a PR,” she said. “There was no sense of security for them even if they wanted to settle down here. Eventually after trying (for) two years, four years, six years, they left in the end.”
Like Ms Yang, Mr Jackie Tan, 28, has been living in Singapore for a long time. The Kuala-Lumpur born Malaysian came to Singapore when he was 13 years old.
Currently pursuing his doctorate in biological sciences at the Nanyang Technological University, Mr Tan said he plans to apply for PR when he finishes his graduate studies. After all, most all of his friends are Singaporeans. His startup Fundmylife — which provides financial literacy content — is also headquartered here, hiring mostly Singaporeans.
Having grown up in Singapore and gone to schools here, both Mr Tan and Ms Yang said they feel very much a part of Singapore society. But Mr Tan is aware of the anti-foreigner sentiments expressed online. “Perhaps because I am quite naturalised already. I don’t speak with a Malaysian slang, so I haven’t been at the receiving end of (such) sentiments,” he said.
Malaysian Jackie Tan, 28, founder of local financial planning startup Fundmylife, has been living in Singapore more than half his life. These days, he is giving back to Singapore through his startup business, by hiring mostly locals. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY
HOW SOME S’POREANS FEEL
On their part, Singaporeans whom TODAY spoke said they welcome foreigners, so long as the inflow is well-managed by the Government — with companies not turning to hiring foreigners as the easy way out or the cheaper option — and the foreigners make efforts to assimilate into Singapore society.
Singaporean Dylan Chua, 30, who works in real estate, said he is ambivalent on the issue. “It is true that there is a general sense of competition for jobs and space but I generally do not automatically attribute those issues to foreign talent,” he said. “I think we have to work equally hard regardless of our nationality.”
Letting in foreigners must not used as a primary solution to solve workforce issues, he added.
Another Singaporean who wished to be known as Mr Tay, 66, felt that Singaporeans have to accept the reality that the country needs foreigners alongside its citizens. For jobs that Singaporeans shy away, foreigners would be needed to fill those roles, he noted. As for higher skilled workers, regardless of nationality, it all boils down to having a “survivor’s mentality”. He said: “If you are not better (than others), then you have to accept things as they are. The strongest survivor wins.”
BREAKING THE BARRIER
Ms Than Tun recalled how she faced some difficulties during her first six months here, citing the attitudes of some Singaporeans whom she met.
But she noted that the situation improved after she took the first step to mix more with Singaporeans. “I had to break that barrier,” she said.
Ms Yang, who married a Chinese PR, owns a HDB flat with her husband and the couple will be having their first child in a month.
Like Mr Tan, she said that her schooling years in Singapore had allowed her to get to know the country better, and enabled her to make local friends.
While the proportion of international students enrolled in Singapore universities is on the decline, Mr Tan reiterated that schools are an important part of cultivating a “sense of home” for foreign talent. “Being able to study in Singapore increases the chance of settling in (the country)… no foreigners wake up in the morning wanting to be a Singaporean citizen straightaway,” he said.
Ms Yang said that for foreigners who arrive here to work, it is harder for them to integrate and sink roots here.
Still, she felt that both foreigners looking to contribute to Singapore, and the country itself have much to gain from keeping the doors open.
“It is good to get talent from the region. Singapore is the heart of (Southeast Asia) with a culturally diverse society. As the society is ageing, a way to ensure sustainability in economic growth is by (embracing) foreign talent,” she said.
“The prospective immigrants are usually young, able to contribute to society, and looking to settle down (in time to come).”