Singapore’s Business Hub Status At Risk Due To Growing Xenophobia
SINGAPORE – The city-state’s status as a major global financial hub is being negatively impacted by the rise of anti-expat sentiment that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, reported BBC on Tuesday afternoon (31 August, SGT).
Previously, Pavla and Alain Schneuwly had lived in Singapore for over 10 years. They even raised 2 sons in the Southeast Asian nation.
“Everything was perfect, life was beautiful. We could travel around and enjoy the best of Singapore,” Pavla said. But she said things changed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and they decided to move to another country because of those negative changes.
“It became increasingly obvious that there was a bit of a divide in the treatment of the local residents and the expat community. We increasingly felt that the restrictions that were imposed on us were unfair,” she explained, referring to the previous different border rules for Singapore citizens and foreign residents.
The predicament of the Schneuwly family highlights the difficult position the authorities in the city-state finds itself in.
Traditionally, Singapore’s economy has largely depended on expatriates from high-earning professionals in multinational corporations that have established regional headquarters here to low-paid maids & construction workers.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate here has increased. Even though it’s still low compared to that of many other nations, there’s growing resentment among some Singaporeans towards the high number of foreign workers.
Some felt they have been deprived of better job opportunities by expatriates, while some have been displeased by how foreigners have misbehaved. For example, a UK national who refused to don a mask while riding a train was recently deported, while a group of overseas nationals had their work passes revoked for flouting safe distancing rules in 2020.
Amidst this situation, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the importance of foreign workers for the country’s economy during his National Day speech on Sunday evening.
“We must not turn our backs on them (expatriates), and give the impression that Singapore is becoming xenophobic and hostile to foreigners. It would gravely damage our reputation as an international hub. It would cost us investments, jobs and opportunities.”
According to the latest data from the Ministry of Manpower, the overall number of foreign workers in Singapore fell by nearly 14 percent in the 12 months to December 2020. Despite the sizeable drop, there are still 1.2 million overseas workers here, accounting for about 33 percent of the city-state’s overall workforce.
The European Chamber of Commerce’s President Federico Donato said foreign talents are essential to Singapore’s growth and development.
“Allow me to borrow an example from soccer. If you play in the Champions League, you need to have the best talent, you want to have Ronaldo, Bonucci and Messi to compete at the top level.”
“If you want to be a top banking centre, you want to be a global tech hub, you cannot do it without an influx of people, especially if you are a country with just 5 million people,” he added.