The Merlion statue faces the waterfront in Singapore's business district
Expats in Singapore are threatened with an end to the welcoming culture
Expatriot News October 2020
The question of how many expats should come to the country has moved to the top of the political agenda in recent weeks.
In addition, there is the Corona crisis and the impact on strangers / expats
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Singapore has long been considered one of the most attractive places for foreign professionals and managers. But xenophobia is growing in the city-state.
High salaries, good career opportunities, all the conveniences of a modern city life and twelve months of the year tropical sunshine: the Southeast Asian metropolis of Singapore has long been the first choice for specialists and managers from abroad who want to settle in Asia. Worldwide, expats only have a better life in Switzerland, according to a study by the HSBC bank last year.
But in the face of a historical economic crisis and a rising unemployment rate, the highly qualified foreigners in the city-state are threatened with an end to the welcoming culture: The question of how many expats should come to the country and whether they will take away well-paid jobs from the local population has been a whole lot in recent weeks moved high on the political agenda.
The government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is now tightening the criteria that are necessary for a work permit - and wants to take action against companies that allegedly discriminate against Singaporeans.
"Especially in these uncertain times, I want to remind all employers to do their part to expand the Singapore core workforce," Lee said in parliament on Wednesday. Otherwise, the companies would have to reckon with consequences when issuing new work permits for foreigners.
The day before, Lee's Minister of Labor, Josephine Teo, announced that she would initiate an investigation into companies whose “Singaporean core” was weakened. She wants to get these companies to redesign their profile with a view to the origin of the employees.
Dissatisfaction is growing in the population
Teo's ministry put 47 employers on a watch list in early August on suspicion of discriminating against the local population. According to the government, the companies not named are said to have recruited more than 40 percent of their specialists and managers from abroad. A large number of companies come from the financial sector.
Hiring foreign personnel should now also become more expensive: Since September 1, there has only been a work permit with a minimum monthly salary of around 2800 euros. This lower threshold was raised for the second time this year.
In the spring it was still 2200 euros. The minimum wages for the financial sector are set to rise even further in December. "I would not be surprised if fewer visas are issued in the future because the demand for foreigners will drop," commented Grant Torrens, Singapore boss at the personnel service provider Hays.
With the planned restriction of the influx of skilled workers, the government is reacting to growing dissatisfaction among the population. The opposition Labor Party, which won more parliamentary seats than ever in the July election, had called for a restriction on the influx of foreign workers in its election manifesto.
In den sozialen Medien sorgte zuletzt eine Zunahme von fremdenfeindlichen Äußerungen für Aufsehen, die sich unter anderem gegen den aus Indien stammenden Chef der singapurischen Bank DBS Piyush Gupta richteten.
Government on the side of the Singaporeans
The Temasek sovereign wealth fund has also come under fire in recent weeks: LinkedIn profiles have been shared online by foreign Temasek employees, combined with criticism that the company is not hiring local people instead. Temasek condemned this as a "divisive, racist campaign".
Prime Minister Lee tried to contribute to a rhetorical disarmament in parliament: "Even if we adjust our criteria for work permits, we must not give the impression that we are closing ourselves off," he said. After all, being an international business center is Singapore's recipe for success.
At the same time, however, he underlined: "The government will always be on the side of the Singaporeans." The only purpose of creating jobs for foreigners is to ultimately improve the standard of living of the local population.
Singapore's voters gave the government a lesson - and that is also due to Jamus Lim. The young, charismatic economics professor caused a sensation as a candidate for the opposition Labor Party with a simple question: he wanted to know why so many in a rich country like Singapore People are economically left behind, said the 44-year-old former World Bank economist in the election campaign. He called for more support for low wage earners and the introduction of a minimum wage.
In view of the worst recession in its history, which threatens the Southeast Asian city-state as a result of the corona crisis, the message reached the voters.
After a high-profile appearance in a TV debate, Lim, who studied at Harvard University and most recently taught at a business school in Singapore, won a seat in parliament. He is thus part of a surprise success of the opposition, which gave Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's ruling PAP party one of the worst results in its history.
As expected, the ruling party still retains its comfortable majority: The PAP has been in power in Singapore for six decades - longer than any other party in a democracy. Her massive influence on the mass media and a legal system that makes it extremely difficult to deal critically with the government help her.
Compared to the last election five years ago, the approval of government policy has fallen significantly: The PAP received 61 percent of the vote - a decrease of around nine percentage points. The result is only a touch better than in 2011, when the ruling party got the worst result in its history.
In parliament, however, the PAP remains the dominant force - due to the majority vote, which secures a disproportionate number of seats. It now comes to 83 of the 93 mandates. The Labor Party, the only one of ten opposition parties to make it into parliament, will have ten members in the next legislative period.
Prime Minister Lee admitted a certain disappointment with the result. "We got a clear mandate, but the percentage of the vote is not as high as I had hoped," said Lee.
"That wasn't a good mood choice"
The 68-year-old had preferred the elections, which should take place next year at the latest, amid the corona crisis against criticism from the opposition. Observers saw behind this the calculation that governing parties often benefit in times of crisis.
In this case, however, that was not the case: "The result reflects the pain and uncertainty felt by many Singaporeans," said Lee.
That wasn't a good mood choice," he added.
Singapore has been grappling with the medical and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for months. With more than 45,000 cases per capita, the city-state, which has a population of just under six million, has a similar number of infections as Brazil. At the beginning of the pandemic, the authorities managed to keep the outbreak under control with strict quarantine rules and highly efficient contact tracing.
In its anti-corona policy, however, the government neglected the guest workers' homes, in which hundreds of thousands of foreigners live together in a very small space. The virus then spread there at breakneck speed.
During the election campaign, Lee received criticism of the crisis policy from, among others, his brother Lee Hsien Yang, who had joined the opposition Progress Singapore Party shortly before the election. He complained that the PAP - founded by the father of the two brothers, state founder Lee Kuan Yew - had become too elitist and neglected the everyday problems of the people in Singapore.
However, he did not run for a seat in parliament on the grounds that Singapore's politics had seen enough lees. His party friends were also unable to prevail in Friday's election.
The vote was characterized by safety measures designed to minimize health risks. Voters were asked to keep one meter apart in the queues. There was an absolute mask requirement.
Lee's last choice
Plastic gloves were distributed before the ballot papers were filled out. The polling stations should be disinfected every half hour. Because the procedure was very time-consuming, voting was extended by two hours.
For Prime Minister Lee, who has been in office since 2004, it was possibly the last election as head of government. He had announced several times that he wanted to leave office on his 70th birthday. That would be in two years. With Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, the party has already decided on a likely successor.
It is possible that the government, in view of the poor election result for its own standards, will switch more to populist politics, as it did after the poor performance in 2011.
At that time, she reacted, among other things,
by restricting immigration and taking measures against rising housing costs.
As a result of the corona crisis, the government had already adopted several stimulus packages with a volume of more than 70 billion US dollars in the months before the election. For this year, the authorities are expecting economic output to shrink by up to seven percent.
After Friday's election, Lee hinted that postponing his retirement is an option. He said he wanted to stay at the top of Singapore's leadership until the Covid-19 crisis was over.
The corona virus in the guest workers' homes is getting out of control
Singapore almost had the coronavirus crisis under control. But now a massive outbreak in the dormitories for foreign guest workers is shocking the rich city-state.
With the help of strict quarantine for infected people and travelers from abroad, the metropolis was able to almost completely contain the virus crisis.
Singapore is one of the most prosperous countries in the world, but many companies in the city-state save where they can when it comes to their guest workers. In one of the dormitories in the north-east of the metropolis, employers can rent accommodation for their employees at dumping prices: a 48-square-meter room with bunk beds costs just under 200 euros per month.
The residents are mostly immigrants from countries such as India and Bangladesh. A total of around 200,000 foreign workers in Singapore live in a confined space in the cheap dormitories.
Quarantine obligations and canceled flights:
Asia's restart in the travel business is chaotic
From India to Thailand to Singapore, the governments are trying to stimulate travel again. This leads to problems. Lufthansa is also affected.