What are your opinions on foreign talent in Singapore?

I got asked this question on EDMW“What are your opinions on foreign talent coming into SG? Do you think they are “stealing jobs from locals” like what majority of people are saying? (Basically your entire view on FT and what you think of the majorities view of the issue)”

That’s a really big question! To be honest, I haven’t completely made up my mind yet.

I think that foreigners coming to Singapore is normal and to be expected, and I am not against it in any way- but I also think that maybe we can oversee the process in a better and more equitable way. I think this is more than just the role of the government.

I think the government might have fucked up by allowing such a dramatic inflow of immigrants, and that maybe there would be less problems if it had been more slow-and-steady. Lots of people in government underestimated the social impact of such change. Or perhaps they were aware of it, but chose to go through with it anyway.

I think there’s a rejection of silent evidence here- by which I mean to say that perhaps in measuring all that we are to gain, we have overlooked what we have lost- because we can see the new successes, but we don’t notice when some of our most promising Singaporeans give up and migrate overseas. Just how many Singaporeans migrate every year? I think we need these statistics displayed prominently for all to see.

I don’t buy the “stealing jobs” argument. Jobs don’t belong to anybody. If we want to complain about others stealing our jobs, we have to acknowledge that we must have been stealing jobs from others for the past 30 years or so. And, taken a logical step further, the entire developed world is living the high life at the expense of the developing world- we have access to opportunities that kids in Africa just don’t.

Foreigners are willing to do the same jobs for less pay because they’ve spent their lives living with even less. I think we’re just lacking perspective, here. Maybe if we spent a year living in the hometowns of the PRCs and Pinoys we wouldn’t feel like they’re stealing our jobs. Maybe we’d wonder why there is such gross inequality in the world to begin with.

That said- I think the Singaporean response of unhappiness and frustration is completely justified. Nobody likes to have their way of living threatened and upset. It’s easy to say “change is the only constant”, “we must constantly upgrade ourselves”, etc- but the worst hit are always the oldest, weakest and poorest- who can’t do anything about it. I volunteer at Changi Prison on Saturdays and I meet good-hearted prisoners- older men who’ve been in there for years and are just eager to get their lives back on track. But how are they going to do it? Who’s going to hire a Singaporean ex-convinct over a cheaper foreigner? (Well, I would, but I’m not running a corporation.) Some people are going to go hungry. Is this the price of progress? It seems a little brutal. I’d like to imagine that civilized society can do better than that.

Perhaps “They’re stealing our jobs!” is too dramatic. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say, “They have a right to my job too, but if you let them in so fast, I can’t adapt, I can’t move on, and then you’re just swapping one person for another and there is no growth. His employment comes at my unemployment. Win-lose, rather than win-win.”

I have to concede that it does make sense from an “evolutionary standpoint”… but if we had that sort of cold-hearted reasoning, we’d also let our disabled and invalid die, and to be stricken by debilitating illness is a death sentence if you’re not financially secure. What kind of a society would we have, then, if people have to live in constant fear of the unknown? A little fear is good, it keeps you on your toes and gets you making pragmatic decisions- but paralyzing fear? Sometimes it feels like there’s two kinds of middle-class Singaporeans- the ignorant, and the terrified. Makes you wonder which is better.

I also think it’s bloody frustrating to have to go through all that is difficult about life- waking up, commuting, working, etc- while also having to deal with harsh and inconsiderate attitudes from others. Life is hard enough without assholes making it harder for everyone else.

I don’t want to single out any particular group of people, but my anecdotal experience has been occasionally frustrating. I notice Singaporeans are increasingly starting to stand on the left on escalators, and we’ve matured enough to avoid crowding in front of the train doors (it seems, lah) but some of the foreigners don’t seem to get it. I’m not saying all foreigners are fucked up- I have some great relationships with the PRC folk at the coffeeshop near my house, and I’ve seen some pretty cute instances of Singaporean/foreigner friendship- but there are always a few idiots who have to spoil it for everyone.

I don’t think the government can do much about this, I think this is a social problem that needs social solutions. I wonder how we can reach out to these folk. I’m thinking it begins with us reaching out to those who’re already kind of settled-in and “Singaporeanized”, and then we have to use these as proxies to reach out to the crazy ****ers.


1: Foreigners are a fact of life, everywhere in the world. Inescapable. I’d try to adapt to it rather than reject it or be resentful about it.

2: The rate of inflow of foreigners might have been too high. Government may have ****ed up. We have to clean up the shit. It’s not fair, but it’s still our country. Vote better next time. 

3: If foreigners are stealing our jobs, we’ve also been stealing jobs for decades. Someone’s always getting screwed over. I think it’s good to keep that in mind, to give ourselves some perspective.

4: Even if it’s normal for jobs to go elsewhere, we could surely afford to make the process less harsh and painful, especially for the old, weak, ill, poor, uneducated, disabled. Change is disruptive, but we could be cushioning the blow better.

5: Some foreigners are really disgusting and inconsiderate in their behaviour, and I think this is a disproportionate source of frustration. I think Singaporeans would be a lot more tolerant of foreigners if they’d make more of an effort to be a part of our society. I think we should try to fix this by reaching out to them somehow.

6: I’ve noticed politicians asking Singaporeans to give more, to do more, to try and help the foreigners integrate. I agree with them, but I also think it’s messed up for someone earning so much more than me to tell me how I ought to be treating other people. I think that’s just a fundamental truth of behavioral psychology. If I were the PM, I’d give everyone a pay cut. “We need to pay for talent” is a bullshit argument that is being heavily undermined by modern psychology/sociology. Here’s a truth that’s even more tried-and-tested than “we need to pay for talent”- If you want to lead, lead by example.

Phew, that was really long. And as usual, my TL;DR also TL;DR.

Time to get back to studying.