Wednesday, March 24, 2010
On Singapore citizenship and permanent residency
There’s been a lot of buzz of late on how Singapore citizens don’t have much of an advantage compared to Singapore permanent residents. In fact, citizens are at a distinct disadvantage in many instances, e.g. compulsory National Service obligations (which also frequently negatively affect employers’ preferences) and the prohibition of dual citizenships.
In an attempt (weak, in this author’s opinion) to placate some of these complaints, the PAP government tried to fix the problem by giving citizens slightly better benefits, such as better subsidies or priorities in health, education, housing etc.
But the unasked question so far is: is there a need for this creature, permanent residency?
What is permanent residency? Generally, permanent residency refers to a person’s visa status, and a permanent resident is allowed to reside indefinitely within a country despite not having citizenship.
Not all countries have a permanent residency scheme. Those that do, usually have a good reason, such as special ties with certain other countries. For example, an EU national who moves to another EU country can attain permanent resident status after residing there for five years. Also, permanent residence rights are granted automatically between Ireland and the United Kingdom.
But Singapore has no such special ties with other countries, even with Malaysia, its closest geographical neighbour.
Hence, in today’s terms, why not abolish the permanent residency regime in Singapore?
In other words, a person is either a citizen or a foreigner. After all, a permanent resident is still a foreign citizen at the end of the day. There are many permanent residents in Singapore who will never consider converting to citizenship despite living, studying and working here most of their lives, and frankly, it’s usually an emotional thing with them. They do not see Singapore as their home country, and there is no loyalty to Singapore at all. In fact, permanent residents ought not to be considered as Singaporeans.. that just unhelpfully blurs the line between a genuine Singaporean national and a person who is not.
Abolishing the permanent residency regime in Singapore is not only a good idea, it is also right for Singapore. The rationale is that Singapore is a small country with limited natural resources. All nationality benefits (and obligations, such as National Service and Central Provident Fund contributions) should only be reserved for and belong to citizens, who are the ones with the right to vote. Hence, for example, given that land is a scarce and valuable resource in Singapore, only citizens should be permitted to own HDB flats.
If a person doesn’t want to be a citizen, that’s fine. He or she can always choose to be a foreigner working and living in Singapore under an employment pass or work permit – there is no problem with that. The expression “permanent resident” is really a misnomer.. the person isn’t residing in Singapore permanently at all, only temporarily. If a person truly wants to make Singapore a permanent home, just be a citizen. There is no need for a hybrid creation like “permanent resident”.
There are many benefits which can be gained from abolishing the permanent residency regime, which will far outweigh the downsides, if any. Housing will be freed up, and the red hot inflated prices will have a chance to be at a normal realistic level. Jobs will be freed up as some permanent residents (who never intended to be citizens anyway) choose to leave. Lots of governmental savings can be made because all the subsidies and benefits that used to go to permanent residents will no longer be required. Overcrowding will be alleviated. All the headaches and problems which the PAP government had futilely been trying to address regarding citizen vs. permanent resident benefits will go away.
The permanent residency scheme can be phased out. All eligible permanent residents can be offered the chance to become a citizen of Singapore. As for the ineligible permanent residents, they simply revert to being plain foreigners, which is exactly who they were all along anyway.
What do you think?