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?


  1. and when they leave so does their capital which can lead to job losses.

    you want the money that they bring and make. that's why there's permanent residency duh.

    sure u can scrap the pr thing, but u'll need to put in another thing to allow for workers to work in singapore, which is going to be exactly like pr anyway.

    pushing all ur workers away is just going to cause economic collapse.

  2. heehee, i wonder how many PRs bring in capital when they come over??? the last time i checked, most of them are here to steal our jobs!

    make no mistake, PRs come here because there is an economic benefit for themselves, not because they are here for altruistic reasons. pls, even our ministars demand astronomical monies for their "public service".

    pushing MOST (nobody asks for ALL) PRs will better our living standard - decrease congestion in all areas, forcing companies to up productivity instead of relying on cheap Myanmese/indian/chinki/philipino foreign labour.

    if there is an economic "collapse", there will be reduction in salary increase of our ministars. ie instead of getting the 8.8% increase in ministerial salary in times of recession, they gonna get like 2% increase.

  3. The system allows this grp of fence sitters (PRs)to work here for years without any requirement to opt for citizenship. I think M'sians are a different grp when we debate this policy but I think there shd be a time deadline for PRs to take up citizenship. Citizens shd not be disadvantaged in school/NS/workforce however you might want to argue against. Being a PR IS definitely good for now.

  4. Actually, if the PRs are doing well in Singapore there is no reason why they can't (or wouldn't)continue to work or carry on business here as foreigners under the existing work pass schemes.

    The issue here is, do foreigners (and yes, PRs are foreign citizens) deserve nationality benefits and subsidies in health, education, housing etc? Shouldn't such nationality benefits and subsidies be reserved by the country for Singapore citizens only?

  5. Interesting post. Those who fear that foreigners will leave in droves if PR is scrapped in Singapore should take a look at the Middle East. 80% of UAE's population are foreigners, while in Kuwait it's 65%.

    There's no concept of PR or new citizen anywhere in the Middle East. Has that stopped expatriates from making a beeline for these oil kingdoms? Surely Singapore shouldn't fear such an exodus. It's erroneous to assume that foreigners will live and work in Singapore only if the PR scheme is in place.

    Actually, it's in the govt's interest to keep the PR scheme in place. All the benefits you have mentioned accrue to the people, not the State. For instance, cooling HDB prices will affect internal debt.

  6. Well, the concrete reason for this is quite simple. It's purely meant for economic reasons. PRs are required to pay taxes. Taxes are any country's primary source of income and for the sake of this, the government thought that by creating this creature called PR, the taxes collection could be multiplied.

  7. Foreigners on work passes do actually have to pay income taxes as well, if they stay in Singapore for at least a certain period, such as (a) 183 or more days a year, (b) continuous 183 or more days over 2 years, or (c) 3 consecutive years (even if stayed less than 183 days during the 1st and 3rd years).

    Most if not all PRs will fall into one of these categories, so even if they revert to being plain foreigners, they will still have to pay income taxes.

  8. There seem to be at least three types of PR here: mercenary experts, particularly in government and finance; semi-skilled "foreign talent" whose policy impact seems primarily to depress local wages via their own indentured servitude; and people who genuinely want to make a go of it here (often having married Singaporeans, for instance) but who do not yet qualify for citizenship. Why not? Officially, we've not lived here long enough yet as PRs: yet seeing some recent "parachuted-in" new citizens, we're wondering if maybe it's because we don't have the right ethnic background.

    This is already, and very differently than years past, the most racist city I've seen since the heyday of the USSR. I've had people deliberately walk out of their way to walk on my toes. I've had people tell ne to my face that I shouldn't mind paying "extra" since I'm an ang moh kwee. As far as getting a job here, let alone one that uses my experience in everything from Fortune 10 companies to dynamic startups, well... dream on.

    If I didn't have PR here, I wouldn't be allowed to stay with my family since I have no WP or EP. On the other hand, I might then go to a real country that hasn't been stunted by fear and racism and self-glorifying ignorance.

    I'm by no means the only PR like me, either. What would your smug new plan do with us?

  9. To Jeff, I am sorry to hear that you’ve faced such unpleasantness in Singapore. Racism is ugly and wrong no matter where it occurs. I hope that the unpleasantness was the exception rather than the norm, and that you would also have encountered people who were good to you in Singapore.

    My blog post is to address that nationality benefits and subsidies should be reserved for citizens only, and not given away to foreigners (whose loyalties and interests in Singapore are uncertain). Perhaps you may agree that if your own home country gave away limited nationality benefits and subsidies to foreigners, you would not be in favour either.

    You’ve indicated that you are unemployed and unable to find any job here in spite of your wealth of experience, and hence cannot get an employment pass or work permit. Presumably, you have also ruled out starting your own business here as well. This is an acknowledgement that jobs are hard to come by in Singapore, and you will appreciate that the local citizens here face the same great difficulty finding work. Part of the problem is the oversupply of foreign workers in Singapore competing for and taking away the limited number of jobs. Shouldn’t a reasonable government address the unemployment problem for its own citizens first, instead of aggravating the problem further by allowing too many foreigners and permanent residents into the country?

    You have a family here, and I assume your family is supporting you financially. From your post, I surmise that your family is the primary reason that you are living in Singapore. For persons in your position (i.e. with a family here) and who would like to be here permanently, citizenship is the obvious choice. I am of the view that the eligibility criteria for citizenship should be changed to make greater allowance for those with families here and who genuinely want to settle down here and make Singapore their permanent homes.

  10. The author and most of the commentators here, perhaps, are not aware of the fact that on a work pass (EP), you get about a week to 15 days to leave Singapore if you happen to lose your job. This was the biggest reason why a lot of skilled professionals (like me) opted for Permanent Residency. Not every PR is a freeloader who wants to take the benefits of residency without giving anything in return. As residents of this country, they pay taxes, contribute to the social security scheme (CPF) and are generally law abiding people. It would be interesting to know the total amount of rental income Singaporeans earn every year from PRs and other foreigners.

  11. Another point of view... If one opts for citizenship, how do you guarantee a good life upon retirement when you usually see old people working miserably (as cleaners, taxi drivers, etc.) just to get by? Getting old is hard in Singapore and some people are holding back citizenship because of this one.

  12. PR work in Woodland, own Singpore HDB & rent out whole HUB unit, stay back home in JB. Really talented. Double income.

    Another whole family move back to India and whole HDB unit rent out. He rent a room from another friend. Very creative. Double income.

    PR can get full CPF once they return home, citizen no escape button leh.

    More advantage to convert Citizen to PR.
    So much benefit for PR, why look at the marginal gain from being a Citizen.

    PR don't worry, they can't chase us out, we're their economic pillar.

  13. Singapore continues to import so called talents form other countries. It's matter of supply and demand equation. As long as they keep the supply above demand, the labor costs will be kept low and young.

    On the average, Singapore citizen after 40 yrs will have to retrained to be taxi driver, property agent and 55+ food court cleaner. May be this is the scary perception we have about retiring as Singapore citizen. At least in China we still can see old people playing chess and not cleaning table in public places.

    1. It would depend on how much saving you had made during your prime age. If you made saving diligently and consistently and lived simply and humbly so that you have a fatty CPF account enjoying generous interest (and it is compounded) given by Singapore government then you would be able to afford playing chess whole days day and night for the rest of your life.

  14. The previous post also states another reason why many PRs blanch at the prospect of converting to a full citizenship. If being a Singapore Citizen gives marginal benefit (if not outright disadvantage), then why convert at all. The writer mentions about housing prices going down. Do you really think so? Correct me if I am wrong, but has anyone realized that everytime the prices go down, its only short-term and usually only during some pre-election rallies when they really want to win the hearts of people to vote for the "right people"? I'm sure this argument has been revisited time and time again, but has anyone also realised that after they have gotten what they want, the prices rise even higher than ever before?

    Does anyone actually believe that abolishing the PR status will help reduce the prices in the long run? IMHO, I think not. But I guarantee that it will go down for a short time in order to "appease" us Singaporeans, before jacking up the price a short time later citing "inflation" as a reason.

  15. It is so easy to put the blame on someone or something just because he or it can't fight back. Think about the recent spate of racism that's been going on in Singapore. Listen carefully - HDB or the government needs a reason to give to us citizens to explain why they are jacking up the prices of various services or items of demand. It could be something else - Dogs, Cats or even the current "inflation" that they may cite that has caused the prices to skyrocket. My suggestion is that as intellectual individuals, we should learn to look past the double-talk and expose the true reason behind any increase in pricing - Capitalism. That's basically it. It is no secret that high ranking government officials are raking in absurdly high monthly salaries. That takes money to sustain. Along with all the other governmental ventures that is going on... you do the math. So where do they tap all this capital from. Sadly, its from us Singaporeans (Other countries strive to capitalise on tourism, our government capitalises on its citizens). Then, to deflect the blame from themselves, they shift it to some other more obvious, easily accessible targets who don't have a voice - i.e. - The foreigners in this country caused x service or x prices to rise. Its their fault...
    Is it...? As much as the government wants to ply that rumour to its benefit, I suggest that we as intellectual human beings, strive to look pass political wordplay and obvious lies to look at the hidden agendas that are in play. Lets not be led by our noses by propaganda that have been fed to us through the news, our schools and various media. Lets not walk around with blinkered vision and be led by others about how things are in this world. Reason. That is why we are human beings. Lets use it more.

  16. There are many issues getting mixed up here.
    The govt has a PEP scheme for EP professionals that gives them 6 months stay on Singapore between one job and another. Maybe to make it more attractive the govt should extend PEP period to 12 months and restrict PRs to only those who commit to citizenship within two years of being offered PR, thus committing to a long term vested interest in Singapore's future. This will allow the govt to calibrate the supply of foreign talent to Singapore much better.
    I think the Singaporeans also need to come to terms with some hard realities instead of moaning about being overrun by foreigners. Why is there a lack of young Singaporeans in the services sector ? Isnt this forcing that sector to import and employ talent to keep places like hotels and restaurants running. Do you want to shut down all the places that attract tourists from all over the world to come spend their dollars and keep the local economy buzzing ? You have had one of the most progressive and visionary govts, which has created a Singapore based on merit and integrity in public life, and you actually moan about small things like this ?

  17. I'm a PR, don't want to convert to be citizen. Reason being is I don't want to loose property back home there.
    I want to retire early back home, spend time in my ranch on the mountainous area with fresh air and near beautiful beaches.
    I don't want to keep working as employee here when reaching 50-60 years old, as I don't like to see elder people have to work for their daily life.
    That phenomena is pitiful. Elderly should relax while enjoying retire time, play with grandchild and giving more charity.
    Elderly is good to work for sure, but not those physical job, which not so suitable for them.
    There are hundreds thousands PR here (1 PR in 10 person here) with extra benefit compare new comers of foreign talent, it attractive enough and great source revenue for Singapore.
    If PR phase out, for sure is going to be huge impact on economic.

    So don't just think about what PR or citizen benefits, that is narrow mindset. Singaporean like you should able to get much competitive edge when you are young until getting older. If 3rd world country people can enjoy much more than you, then why you still here. See the world is wide open for you.

  18. My view is, if the permanent resident pays all government taxes and is deducted on CPF why is he not entitled to benefits from the government? He is paying taxes to get the benefits. If Singaporeans want the benefits of PRs stripped then they should ask the government to exempt PRs from tax. Or else the tax money paid by PRs will be used for the benefits for Singaporeans which will be a disadvantage to them

  19. I'm a foreigner but I actually agree with this blogpost. I think what the author meant was what should be an ideal singapore with it's citizens. I personally feel that singaporeans should be the sole benefactor of it's benefits since they are the citizens of SG who are willing to stay here for the rest of their lives. PR thing is fine but there should be a period limit (say 2 years upon approval of this law) given to them to decide whether they want to convert as singaporeans or else their PR status will be revoked and they will return to being normal foreign talents with work permits.
    And with the tremendous number of new applicant's for PR, replishing the old PR's who chose not to be citizens can always be replenished.

    Let us not mix up with the economic problems because there are always ways to solve them if your government really insisted.