Mainland Chinese Drawn to Singapore, Tensions Follow

Home prices in Singapore homes hit record highs in the first quarter of 2011, but that did not stop mainland Chinese from continuing to snap up properties in the island-nation.

According to a report released by real estate research firm DTZ, mainland Chinese continue to be the largest foreign buyers of Singapore’s residential properties for two consecutive quarters of 2011, topping Malaysians who have traditionally held this position in the past. Mainland Chinese accounted for 26% of purchases of residential properties made by foreigners in the second quarter of 2011.

Singapore is a prime destination for Chinese, who have become the largest group of expatriates in Singapore, with more than one million residing in the island-nation.

However, the influx is being greeted with mixed feelings by the locals.

Locals are critical of the heavy presence of foreigners here, especially the workforce in the non-professional category. One Singaporean told me lower-to-middle income locals are feeling the squeeze as they face stiffer competition for job opportunities.

“The lower-income group of locals are those that work as security guards and restaurants, and these are also the jobs that migrant Chinese workers are after. This group of Singaporeans are more affected as they cannot afford to leave the country, while at the same time, cost of living in Singapore is also rising,” he said.

The social impact of the growing mainland Chinese population in Singapore has taken a new twist, following an incident in August whereby a Chinese family filed a complaint against a Singaporean-Indian family for cooking curry. The issue had to be mediated via a community center, which resulted in the Indian family agreeing not to cook curry when the Chinese family is at home.

The incident created an uproar in Singapore, with netizens launching a day to cook curries in protest of the incident.

Singapore has relied on foreign talent since the country obtained its independence. Due to its small size compared with neighboring countries, Singapore’s former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, believed that Singapore could lure foreign investments through giant multinationals that would provide capital, jobs and ready-made markets into Singapore.

As a result of the policy, foreigners are one-third of Singapore’s workforce. Out of its 5-million population, 25.6% consists of non-resident foreigners.

The Singapore government has responded to this by tightening its immigration policies, which is seen as a result of public pressure as well as global economic uncertainties that could cause an uncontrollable flow of foreign labor into the country.

The number of foreigners entering the country dropped significantly in 2010, compared with previous years. In 2010, the number of non-resident foreigners in Singapore grew 4.1%, compared with its peak of 15% in 2007 and 19% in 2008.

The government has basically raised the minimum investment required to qualify for permanent resident status to S$2.5 million (US$1.9 million) in Singapore-based investments.

Meanwhile, professionals applying for permanent resident status or citizenship also face tighter eligibility criteria. Some seeking residency renewals are now given one-year extensions, compared with five and 10 year extensions given out in previous years.

However, not all Singaporeans share the same disdain toward the heavy foreign presence in the country. “Singapore has always been a migrant society, and its economy is built on meritocracy of opportunities. The influx of expatriates or migrant workers is not a negative development,” said a Singaporean who is now living abroad.

Yong Yen Nie

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