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Immigration and immigrant workers in Singapore have been closely associated with the country's economic development. After independence in 1965, immigration laws were modified in 1966 to reinforce Singapore's identity as a sovereign state. However, the initial strict controls on immigrant workers were relaxed as demand for labor grew with increased industrialization (Yeoh 2007).
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Between 1970 and 1980, the size of the non-resident population in Singapore doubled. The trend continued in the 1980s and 1990s (Yeoh 2007). Foreigners constituted about 29% of Singapore's total labor force in 2000, which is the highest proportion of foreign workers in Asia (Yeoh 2007). Over the last decade, Singapore's non-resident workforce increased 170%, from 248,000 in 1990 to 670,000 in 2006 (Yeoh 2007). By 2006, there were about 580,000 lower-skilled foreign workers in Singapore; another 90,000 foreign workers are skilled-employment pass holders (Yeoh 2007). In September 2010, the Singapore Statistics Bureau announced the report showed that of the Singapore population approaching 5,000,000 people by the end of June 2010, the number of Singapore citizens stand at 3,200,000; in other words one in every three persons living in Singapore is a foreigner.
In Singapore, the term immigrant workers is separated into foreign workers and foreign talents. Foreign workers refers to semi-skilled or unskilled workers who mainly work in the manufacturing, construction, and domestic services sectors. The majority of them come from places such as People's Republic of China, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Thailand, as part of bilateral agreements between Singapore and these countries (Yeoh 2007). Foreign talent refers to foreigners with professional qualifications or acceptable degrees working at the higher end of Singapore’s economy. They come from India, Australia, People's Republic of China, Pakistan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Europe, New Zealand and United States. The Singaporean government has carefully constructed a system under which different types of employment passes are issued to immigrant workers according to their qualifications and monthly salaries. The “P, Q, R” employment-pass system was put into practice since September 1998; a new “S” type employment pass was later introduced in July 2004. The government has also set different policies on recruiting foreign talents and foreign workers.
The different policies towards 'Foreign workers' and 'Foreign talent' in Singapore have led some people to feel that their contributions toward Singapore’s development are valued differently. However, the Singapore government has always stressed the importance of immigrant workers to Singapore’s economy and development. Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, then Prime Minister, said in his 1997 National Day rally speech that the government's lack of restrictions on the recruitment of foreigners did not extend only to top-rung prestigious positions, but also to middle-level management, skilled worker and technician positions (Low 2002).
Various policies and incentives are used to attract foreign talent to Singapore. CONTACT SINGAPORE was launched in 1997 by the International Talent Division of the Ministry of Manpower to facilitate the inflow of international talent[dubious ] to Singapore. The Singapore Talent Recruitment (STAR) Committee was formed in November 1998 with the aim of attracting foreign talents to Singapore. Other similar programmes include Manpower 21, launched in 1999, and the International Manpower Program of the Economic Development Board. The government has developed the Scheme for Housing of Foreign Talents with the aim of providing affordable yet comfortable accommodations for foreign talents, in order to attract them to work and stay in Singapore (Low 2002).
On the other hand, stringent policies and regulations have been set on employing foreign workers. In 1981, the government even announced its intention to phase out all unskilled foreign workers by the end of 1991, except domestic maids and those employed in construction and shipyards. The policy stance was met with strong protests from employers facing labor shortages (Athukorala and Manning, 1999).
In April 1987, the Singapore government announced its immigration policy, which intended to control the foreign worker inflow. The two key elements in the policy were a monthly levy payable by the employer for each foreign worker employed, and a “dependency ceiling” that limits the proportion of foreign workers in the total workforce of any one employer. The government later introduced a two-tier levy system in October 1991 under which employers were required to pay a higher levy on workers whose employment would change the “dependent ceiling” value of the company(Athukorala and Manning 1999). The levy and the “dependency ceiling” have remained the two instruments with which the government has regulated worker inflow in line with changes in domestic labor-market conditions (Athukorala and Manning 1999).
Non-residents working in Singapore will require a work visa. There are various types of Singapore work visas starting from work permits for the lower-skilled labourers, to P1 and P2 category Employment Passes to attract niche professionals with good credentials in both education and work experience.
From September 1, 2012 only foreign workers with at least earn S$4,000 ($3,150) per month can sponsor their spouses and children for their stay in Singapore and some of them are also not allowed to bring their parents and in-laws on long-term visit passes. The new regulation also impacts those who switch companies on/after the date, but foreign workers whose families are already in Singapore won't be affected. The increase from $2,800 to $4,000 is to ease public disquiet over the influx of workers from overseas.
In early 2013, the Singapore parliament debated over the policies recommended by the Population White Paper entitled A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore. Citing that Singapore's 900,000 Baby Boomers would comprise a quarter of the citizen population by 2030 and that its workforce would shrink "[f]rom 2020 onwards", the White Paper projected that by 2030, Singapore's "total population could range between 6.5 and 6.9 million", with resident population between 4.2 and 4.4 million and citizen population between 3.6 and 3.8 million. The White Paper called for an increase in the number of foreign workers so as to provide balance between the number of skilled and less-skilled workers, as well as provide healthcare and domestic services. It also claimed that foreign workers help businesses thrive when the economy is good. The motion was passed  albeit after amendments made to leave out "population policy" and add focus on infrastructure and transport development.
The White Paper was criticized by opposition parties. Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang of the Workers' Party of Singapore had criticized current measures of increasing the fertility rate, claiming that the high cost of living and lack of family and social support discouraged young couples from having babies. As for current immigration policies, he had noted that immigrants were a source of friction for Singaporeans and that an increased population would put more stress on the already strained urban infrastructure. On February 16, 2013, nearly 3,000 people rallied to protest the White Paper and raise concerns that the increased population would lead to the deterioration of public service and the increase of the cost of living in the future.
The influx of immigrants and foreign workers to Singapore has resulted in strong sentiment by the locals against both the foreigners and the government, and was a major issue in both the 2011 general and presidential elections. Singaporeans have attributed to the government's open-door immigration policy the country's overcrowding and falling reliability of its public transportation system, increasing property prices for housing, suppressed wage level, increased competition for jobs and education, and other social problems.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke up against this anti-foreigner sentiment after Singaporeans expressed outrage at a statement by a scholar from China studying in National University of Singapore, Sun Xu, who made a remark on his blog that "there are more dogs than humans in Singapore". This was weeks after a revelation in parliament that S$36 million worth of scholarships were awarded to 2,000 foreign students every year, something that is unheard of in other countries. The government was accused of disadvantaging the local students in places for education and affordability, and in response it has made a policy change in primary education to give some priority to Singaporeans.
There were also concerns that immigrants were using Singapore as a springboard for immigration to other developed countries. Every year, 300 naturalized citizens renounced their Singapore citizenship. Many foreigners are hesitant of taking up Permanent Residency (PR) or Singapore citizenship due to the two years of mandatory military service by male citizens and second-generation PRs.