foreign talent

February 28th, 2008

Foreign Talents in Singapore

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Several weeks ago, a prominent friend whom I shall not named here said something that stick to my mind ever since. “As Singapore grows to 6.5m people mostly via importing, the positive side effect is Singapore can control the IQ of its overall population.”

Population IQ is a statistic game. The IQ mean is 100. You cannot improve the mean by producing more babies. You can improve it by attracting the best and brightest professionals to your city.

In bigger country like Indonesia, Malaysia or China, their metropolitan cities has the advantage of not just drawing the talent pool from its city but all over the country. For example, most people working in Beijing weren’t born in Beijing.

Unfortunately, Singapore does not have other cities to draw its talent pool from. To remain competitive with the top cities, Singapore must be able to attract talents from the region/world with an open immigration policy. This is why the “Foreign Talent” policy is sacred cow, no debates within the government. Singapore survival in the long term depends on not just grooming its own talent but also attracting talents from other countries.

Yet, I couldn’t get the statement made by my friend out of my mind. Or rather, the implications of it.

What happened when you put 4m people with a mean IQ of 100 together with a carefully selected 2m people with a mean IQ of 130?

While the overall mean IQ of the population will no doubt improve, the original 4m people, ie Singaporeans born in Singapore would generally fall behind.

Most Singaporean would find themselves working for or under Foreign Talents. Only a small percentage of the best Singaporeans would be competitive. Even the once “middle class” may find themselves not so middle-class anymore.

With the progression of this immigration, it is inevitable that Singaporeans will see their colleagues layoff replaced by FT, a promotion they thought they going to have taken over by a imported FT, or their top-in-class child is no longer the top student because of smarter ASEAN scholars.

It is human nature to demonize a group for their incapacity. When the above happens, most people aren’t going to say “I just need to work harder!” but rather to blame foreigners taking their jobs, their woman and overtaking their kids. The knee-jerking reaction is to questioning and then opposing the Foreign Talent policy, and if that don’t work (it won’t under a sensible government), starting to resent these foreigners.

In my last 20+ years in Singapore, I never felt as unwelcome here than these two years.

I am also pretty sure the government is aware of the resentments against the foreigners. But it has consistently reminded Singaporeans that Singapore is not a welfare state and they have to work harder.

Singapore needs Foreign Talents. There is no doubt about it. It is part of the long term progress for Singapore.

But with Foreign Talents policy, the government must do more for Singaporeans as they will fall behind. As much as I agree to cultivating a good work attitude and habit, that no one owes you a living except yourself, no-welfare state policy should be reconsidered. Otherwise, it will breeds more anti-FT sentiments in the long run.


1 I wanted to blog this few weeks ago. Being an PR, even though I was here since primary school, means I am not allowed to interfere nor dabbles with Singapore politics. But following the IM session with Siew Hong last night regarding his latest speech, I think I should blog this, not because I have any politic agenda but what I think is best for Singapore.

2 I use IQ and talent interchangeably as I see IQ as a proxy indicator for talent, which may not be accurate sometimes but good enough for this article.

3 MOM publishes statistics showing more foreigner taking up jobs. This is a nature effect as Singapore imports more labor. That itself isn’t a problem since Singaporeans are still employed, just that the demand of economy demands more than the what Singaporeans can take up for. But it validates part of my analysis above.

It said: “With the lowest unemployment in ten years and employment at an all-time high, the number of available Singaporean citizens to take up new jobs over the next few years will shrink. “This is already occurring as shown by the proportion of employment gains going to Singapore citizens, which dropped from 45% in 2004 to 40% in 2005 and to 37% in 2006. This is typical of periods of robust and sustained economic growth, with strong employment creation. link »

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