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Finding Their Feet, Then Fitting In Here

Government needs to draw up integration policy for foreigners, says NUS

Loh Chee Kong
Jan 12 2007

WHILE its efforts to attract foreigners here are bearing fruit, the
Government needs to apply the same acumen to making sure they fit in once
they land on our shores.

To do so, it needs to stop viewing them in terms of purely dollars and
cents - that is, offering them only economic opportunities.

"We need to look at integration policies, which are as complex as our
immigration policies … What we have not invented are the integration
policies after they have entered the door and come in," said Professor
Brenda Yeoh, a geography expert at the National University of Singapore,
citing her interviews with several skilled emigrants who said gaining
Singapore permanent residency or citizenship was just a stepping stone to
emigration elsewhere.

Speaking yesterday at an Institute of Policy Studies forum on migration
and social issues, Prof Yeoh said Singapore needs to focus on integrating
not only the expat "talents".

"The integration and support mechanisms should go beyond … to also the
students, the unskilled workers and the spouses. Each category deserves
careful consideration. For example, the foreign spouses who come in are
not getting support groups."

She added, to Today: "There are policies largely aimed at the economic
sphere, in terms of managing possible tensions as a result of the
competition between local and foreign.

"But what is still very much lacking are policies to do with the other
spheres of life. Education of the young is a very important starting point
in cultivating a cosmopolitan, tolerant outlook as they interact with

Civil society can also play a role in organising activities for foreigners
and locals to interact away from the workplace, added Prof Yeoh, who has
published books and journals on migration issues.

Sociologist Kwok Kian Woon of the Nanyang Technological University too
felt that Singapore "needs to think beyond economics" to create an
emotional bond among the foreigners it wants to attract.

"What is so unique about Singapore and what makes it attractive and
compelling enough for people to say, 'This is the place that I can give a
good part of my life to'?" he said.

Embracing them within a Singapore identity or culture could be one way.
But the role of government must be carefully managed. For example, he felt
that the early years of the 21st century, when society was undergoing
changes and everything was being questioned, had been an opportune time
for Singapore to develop its own culture.

But, Associate Professor Kwok, said: "In Singapore, the tension between
conservative forces and a newer set of values is almost always managed in
a neat and plain way."

When yesterday's session was opened to the floor, a member of the audience
said that the Speak Mandarin Campaign was stunting the development of
Singaporean culture - by killing off the dialects - "just like the way the
Stop At Two policy stunted our birth rates".

Another participant noted that the Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others model of
categorising Singaporeans - and which the Government has indicated it
would be relooking - was another example of a policy that needs to be

Weighing in, one Permanent Resident said he did not like being labelled a
"foreign talent".

He called for Singapore to rethink its stance against dual citizenship -
which was outlawed here in 1960 - if it wished to attract foreigners as
well as retain its own talents.

Agreeing, Prof Yeoh told Today: "The world has changed. While some of
these issues (of nation building) are still very much part of what nations
have to cope with, people's working lives are not going to be tied to one