Singapore continues to face the long-term challenge of low fertility and an ageing population, according to its latest population report.
But the record number of foreign residents in the country has helped grow the total population to 4.84 million in 2008 – an increase of 5.5 per cent over the previous year.
Foreigners now make up about 25 per cent of the total population.
The National Population Secretariat, which released the figures on Wednesday, said the country needs to press on with efforts to build a sustainable population, even as the economic downturn drags on.
Accountant Madam Elham Hassan Mahmoud Birkia came to Singapore from Sudan in 1990. Little did she expect to stay on in this country for 19 years and even call it home.
Madam Elham and her family members have been Singapore citizens for some three years now. And she said her two daughters, aged 13 and 12, born in Singapore and studying in neighbourhood schools are as Singaporean as you can get.
“They take Singapore as their home. Before, they are Sudanese, but when people ask them, they say I am from Singapore not from Sudan,” said Madam Elham.
Madam Elham and her family make up the nearly 100,000 new PRs and citizens last year. The number is up about 20% compared to 2007.
As Singapore becomes home to more foreigners, efforts are underway to better help them integrate into society.
For example, the newly-established National Integration Council will drive efforts on social integration across the private, people and public sectors. It will also encourage more ground-up initiatives to integrate Singaporeans, both existing and new.
And Madam Elham is an example of how community outreach has helped her adapt to multi-racial Singapore.
She has been volunteering with the Tampines North Zone 4 Residents’ Committee since 2005 and was appointed as the RC Treasurer in 2007. She has also been involved in activities such as organising block parties and helping other new citizens by conducting home visits and counselling them when needed.
Addressing concerns from some Singaporeans that foreigners may take away precious jobs from locals during this time of economic downturn, the National Population Secretariat reiterated the need for foreign talents to supplement the Singapore workforce.
The Manpower Ministry’s Divisional Director for Manpower Planning and Policy, Jeffrey Wong said the government is monitoring its foreign manpower policies closely and will make adjustments when needed.
For example, it took steps to adjust the criteria for foreign worker S-Passes this month. This is to ensure Singapore brings in more higher quality foreign workers.
Currently, more than 6 in 10 new citizens and nearly 8 in 10 PRs have post-secondary education.
On the marriage and parenthood front, the numbers show slightly more couples tying the knot last year – up 2.6 per cent to 24,596.
But the number of singles continues to grow and couples are marrying later.
Over the past decade, the median age for first marriages went up from 28 to 29 years for men and 25 to 27 years for women.
The proportion of singles among the 30 to 34 age group surged by some 7 percentage points for both men and women.
Singaporeans are still not having enough babies, and the country’s low fertility rate remains a problem.
The total fertility rate is 1.28, which is way below the replacement level of 2.1 for over 30 years now.
And given the country’s aging population, experts said Singapore needs to press on with efforts to grow its population.
The National Population Secretariat noted these challenges faced during an economic crisis – families deferring their decision to have kids, lesser inflow of immigrants and Singaporeans abroad choosing to come home or leave to find greener pastures.
It is important, even in times of economic downturn, to continue to encourage marriage and parenthood, encourage naturalisation and integration of new immigrants into the country as well as continue to engage our larger Singaporean families out there who are overseas Singaporeans,” said Quah Ley Hoon, director of the National Population Secretariat.
As of June last year, there are more than 180,000 Singaporeans living abroad.
Source: Channel News Asia, 17 June 2009