Transiting into the Singaporean Identity: Immigration and Naturalisation Policy

By Mathew, Mathews; Soon, Debbie | Migration Letters, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Transiting into the Singaporean Identity: Immigration and Naturalisation Policy


Mathew, Mathews, Soon, Debbie, Migration Letters


Introduction

Debates in Singapore about immigration and naturalisation policy have escalated substantially since 2008 when the government allowed an unprecedentedly large number of immigrants into the country. while the city-state is essentially a migrant society, brought about through nineteenth century British colonial interests, Singaporeans have gained a heightened sense of national identity in the fifty years since independence. Being "Singaporean" is essentially, as in other post-colonial societies, manufactured through a series of founding myths and shared experiences. Founding myths include the meritocratic nature of the society, very different from its surrounding Southeast Asian nations where patronage, racial superiority and corruption are rife, and the importance of a strong state to ensure that the nation is able to survive against all odds (Rodan, 2004). Shared experiences, such as a gruelling education system, life in high rise and exorbitant public housing, compulsory military service for men and the melange of cultural celebrations and cuisine further define Singaporeans' identity.

The fact that identity is amorphous and often only well defined in contact with the "other" is clearly demonstrated in the Singaporean case as new migrants come onto its shores. Despite the fact that many of those who come to Singapore are racially similar - from China and India, and the reality that many local born Singaporeans were themselves in a lineage of migrants originating from these same countries several generations ago, local born Singaporeans have asserted the difference between themselves and the newarrivals. There is some concern on the part of Singaporeans that this group of newcomers are not loyal to Singapore and do not share the essential characteristics of Singaporeans, particularly their unwillingness to adopt Singaporean norms and values (Yeoh and Lin, 2013; Chong, 2015). Rather, new immigrants are sometimes known to show contempt to Singaporeans and refuse to shed markers of their former nationality.

This essay will discuss immigration and naturalisation policy in Singapore and the tensions that have been evoked, and how these policies are a key tool in regulating the optimal composition and size of the population for the state's - imperatives. It will demonstrate that although the state has, as part of its broader economic and manpower planning policy to import labour for economic objectives, it seeks to retain only skilled labour with an exclusive form of citizenship. Even as the Singapore state has made its form of citizenship even more exclusive by reducing the benefits that non-citizens receive, its programmes for naturalising those who make the cut to become citizens which include the recently created Singapore Citizenship Journey (SCJ) are by no means burdensome from a comparative perspective. However some of the additional tightening in recent years is a reflection of the need to shore up continued public support for immigration in the midst of growing strands of xenophobia and to continue manufacturing the ideal citizen.

We begin by outlining the context of discussing immigration in Singapore, before going on to trace the development of naturalisation policy. This essay defines naturalisation as the process of becoming a citizen, and hence, some discussion on the nature of Singapore citizenship is in order to inform an understanding of naturalisation policy.

Role of state in regulation

Singapore is often described as practicing a soft form of authoritarianism. While democratic elections are held, only one party, the People's Action Party has succeeded in forming the government since independence. The success of the PAP has been attributed to its ability to deliver economic and development goals to the nation, a priority which many Singaporeans accept. Election after election, the PAP's track record in keeping Singapore's economy vibrant and shielding it from the full impact of global economic threats, allows it to return to power with few opposition parties making inroads. …

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