Foreign worker issue: Whatever the choice we make, there is a price to pay

The issue of immigration and foreigners was cited by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday (Aug 23) as one of the “tough” issues that will come up from time to time, and for which the Government would need Singaporeans’ support to deal with.

Singaporeans understandably have strong views on the issue and the Government has adjusted its policies, but there are no easy choices. Every option chosen by the Government has a cost and a downside, said Mr Lee, as he laid out the different scenarios. If Singapore closes its doors to foreign workers, firms will not have enough workers. Some will close down and Singaporeans working in these companies will lose their jobs. Foreign workers are also needed to build homes and schools here and, in the case of domestic workers, to meet Singaporeans’ daily needs.

However, if the country lets in too many foreign workers, society will “come undone”, Mr Lee said.

Singaporeans will be crowded out, workplaces will feel foreign, the Singapore identity will be diluted. Singapore has to find something in between but even then, there is a trade-off, he said.

Companies will still find costs going up, and they have to pass on some of this to consumers. They will also have to pass up opportunities. Yet, because there will be some foreign workers coming in, Singaporeans will still feel that the country is changing too fast, and resent having to compete with non-Singaporeans.

“It is my responsibility … to make this judgment. And then to act on your behalf … Having acted on your behalf, to account to you for the results and for the reasons I decided the way I did.”

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