Biggest increase is among foreigners, the result of a buoyant economy
By Li Xueying
THAT feeling of a growing squeeze in shopping malls, MRT trains and hawker centres is now borne out by official figures.
Singapore’s population has shot up by a record 5.5 per cent to 4.84 million this June. It is the biggest annual spike since collection of such data began in 1871.
Foreigners are mainly behind the rise.
Drawn here by last year’s fast-trotting economy, their numbers soared by 19 per cent to 1.2 million, said the National Population Secretariat yesterday.
But secretariat director Roy Quek was circumspect about the rise in the number of foreigners, saying this is a group that expands and shrinks with the ups and downs of the economy.
‘There are levers so we can manage the inflow and outflow,’ he added, pointing to measures like the approval of work permits and employment passes.
Latest figures show 757,000 work permit holders, 143,000 on employment passes and 85,000 foreign students.
Citizens and permanent residents (PRs) also added to the population rise, though at a slower pace.
With more births, the number of citizens rose by one per cent. The rise in PRs is 6.5 per cent. Together, they raised the resident population to 3.64 million, from 3.58 a year ago.
Mr Quek stressed that the spike in the population does not mean Singapore is hurtling towards the 6.5 million figure used by government planners as a guide.
It will take 20 to 30 years to get there at the current pace, he said. He expects the resident population to hit 4.8 million by 2030.
The population swell fuelled by foreigners comes at a time when the foreign worker issue is again in the limelight.
Serangoon Gardens residents have been up in arms over the possible siting of a foreign worker dormitory in their residential estate.
Singaporeans interviewed yesterday also expressed concerns over the competition for jobs, as the economy slides.
Accounts executive Iris Sen, 33, said: ‘I notice the cleaners at coffee shops and food courts are now mostly young Chinese nationals. What happened to the Singaporean aunties?’
Mr Desmond Lee, 32, who runs a private school, wondered about the ‘social costs’ of having many foreign workers, citing their tendency to group at void decks to drink.
Mr Quek acknowledged their unease but said Singapore needs the manpower to propel its economy.
He hoped Singaporeans would make the effort to help foreigners integrate even as the Government looks at ways to alleviate their concerns.
As for the Serangoon Gardens uproar, he said it was not possible to isolate all foreign workers on the Southern islands or Tuas.
Meanwhile, on the baby front, the first half of this year saw 18,032 births, 707 more than during the same period last year.
At this pace, the total fertility rate – which was 1.29 last year – may hit 1.3. Still, it is far from the 2.1 replacement rate.
So, Singapore continues to rely on immigration.
The number of citizens and PRs is set to hit a new record this year. In the first half, there were 34,800 new PRs and 9,600 new citizens. The comparative figures for last year were 28,500 and 7,300 respectively.
The statistics show the population’s ethnic make-up shifting too. The Chinese proportion has slipped to 74.7 per cent from 76.8 per cent in 2000, while the proportion of Indians inched up to 8.9 from 7.9 per cent.
But Mr Quek did not expect the ethnic picture to change drastically.
Just as more foreigners have arrived, more Singaporeans left to work and study abroad. About 153,500 are now overseas, 6,000 more than last year.
MP Josephine Teo, who is also NTUC’s assistant secretary-general, saw common ground between Singaporeans who go away and foreigners who arrive.
‘They share a willingness to adapt to different cultures, a certain work ethic and a desire to make good for their families,’ she said.
‘We need to emphasise the common- ness that draws us closer rather than the differences that pull us apart.’