This is why it’s good for us to continue attracting immigrants

By June 16, 2017Current

TL;DR – They raise our standards.

Many Singaporeans complain about immigrants in Singapore. They compete with us in so many ways. Understandably, that makes us uncomfortable. Do we really need them? Why don’t we slow down, or even stop taking in immigrants? Wouldn’t that make Singapore even more liveable? Wouldn’t that give us a bit more breathing space?

No. We should not do that. The day we close our doors to immigrants will mark the beginning of the end of Singapore. Why?

Because immigrants enrich us. You don’t believe? Here’s the proof.

A lecturer from the Department of Economics of NUS conducted a study to find out whether immigrant children or native children in Singapore do better in studies.

In that study, immigrant children are defined as children who are not born in Singapore, while native children are defined as children who are born in Singapore. Here are the key findings from that study.

Immigrant children do better in studies

The study analysed the children’s performance in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is a large-scale international survey that Singapore schools are part of. It provides information on the ability in mathematics, science and reading of 15-year-old students –  by their skills and competencies in solving real-world problems.

The study found that immigrant children performed significantly better than native Singaporean children. How much better? It is as if the immigrant children had an extra year of schooling compared to native Singaporean children of the same age. That suggests that immigrant children are either smarter, or more hardworking.

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Whatever the case is, they raise the standards in Singapore.

 Immigrant parents are better off

The study found that immigrant children tend to have better socio-economic backgrounds. It means that immigrant children are generally better off. Their parents tend to be better educated.  While 61 per cent of immigrant students have fathers with tertiary education and 52 per cent have mothers with tertiary education, the corresponding values are only 38 per cent and 30 per cent for native Singaporean students.

The better socio-economic background is one key contributing factor to immigrant children doing better in PISA. Presumably, with better education, parents of immigrant children are, on average, better able to contribute to the economy than parents of native children.

But don’t they add to the stress of Singaporeans?

Some people would say that immigrant children compete with native Singaporean children for space in “good” schools and universities. Wouldn’t that make life more stressful for native Singaporean children? Wouldn’t it be better to keep them out of Singapore so that they don’t compete with native Singaporean children?

That’s rubbish.

This is the 21st century. We live in a globalised world. Even if these immigrant children aren’t in Singapore, native Singaporean children will still have to compete with them. Only that if we keep them out, those immigrant children and their parents won’t be contributing to Singapore in any way.

On the other hand, if these immigrant children and their parents are in Singapore, they are contributing to Singapore. And they help spur native Singaporean children to work harder, raising their standards too. Put together, this makes Singapore, as a whole, stronger and better able to compete against other countries.

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Let’s continue to welcome talented immigrants

We are not saying that we should let in immigrants indiscriminately. As it is, we have fairly stringent standards of the immigrants we take in. True, we don’t get it right all the time. But, as the study by the NUS lecturer showed, we have gotten it right most of the time.

And we should continue to improve our system, and continue to attract talented immigrants to Singapore. That’s the only way that Singapore can continue to grow and develop.


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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