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More than 500,000 foreigners in Singapore


Straits Times May 20, 1999
Extracts from a Staits Times report

FIGURES from the Manpower Ministry show that there are now 530,000 foreigners here, of whom 80,000 are the higher-skilled and better-educated employment pass holders in sectors such as finance and business, commerce and manufacturing.

The other 450,000 include 100,000 domestic maids and 200,000 construction workers, with the rest in the service, manufacturing and marine industries.

The number of foreigners jumped between 1994 and 1997. Between end 1994 and end 1997, the stock of employment pass holders increased from about 50,000 to 70,000 -- an increase of around 15 per cent a year.

Work permit holders also went up: from 300,000 to 450,000, over the same period.

By the end of 1997, there were some 520,000 foreigners working and living here.

The numbers have stayed somewhat constant in recent years, as Asian economies were hit by the regional crisis and Singapore's growth stagnated.

Significantly, however, the result of the jump in the numbers in 1994 to 1997 was that there was a net inflow of 50,000 foreigners a year in that period.

In other words, 50,000 more foreigners were coming to Singapore each year, of whom about 7000 a year were professionals and skilled workers on employment passes.

The numbers parallel the growth in Singapore's indigenous talent pool.

Each year, some 45,000 babies are born, and the local universities produce about 8000 to 9000 graduates.

Adding the thousands of foreigners who become new migrants and permanent residents each year and it is clear that tapping foreign talent literally doubles the top layers of Singapore's talent pool.

In other words, the foreign additions to the local workforce provide the additional manpower to propel two Singapores, or to double the Republic's growth capacity.

Just how much foreigners actually contribute was highlighted by PM Goh in a recent speech, when he said the Department of Statistics calculated that without an increase in foreign manpower between 1994 and 1996, Singapore's GDP growth in 1996 would have been 2.2 percentage points lower, that is, 5.3 per cent instead of 7.5 per cent.

Singapore's population, without foreigners, grew by 1.9 per cent last year. Immigration brought the rate up to 3.5 per cent.

Published in the Straits Times. May 20, 1999

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