Foreign labor in Singapore: trends, policies, impacts, and challenges
Singapore has one of the most open economies in Asia in terms of trade, foreign direct investment inflows and foreign labour inflows. By 2010, citizens formed only 63.6% of the population and foreigners (not including permanent residents) form 34.7% of the labour force. This high foreign
labour ratio reflects buoyant labour demand, limited domestic labour supply with declining total fertility rate, and the lack of xenophobia and labour protectionism. Foreign labour is needed to grow the population, mitigate population ageing, grow the GDP and per capita GDP, cover shortages in
labour supply and skills, act as a cyclical buffer and contain wage costs to ensure international competitiveness. However, the heavy dependence on foreign labour has also delayed economic restructuring, adversely affected productivity performance, and engendered a FDW-dependency
syndrome among households. The foreign labour policy is dual track, with unrestricted inflow of foreign talents and managed inflow of low-skilled labour through the use of work permits, worker levies, dependency ceilings, and educational and skills criteria. Going forward, Singapore has to limit its dependence on foreign labour to accelerate productivity growth and as it is constrained by physical space and citizen concerns over crowding out of jobs, public and recreational spaces, and public services. Greater bilateral and ASEAN cooperation is needed to mitigate the cross-border conflicts and tensions arising from the cross-border movement of labour.