Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Foreign Talents

A good friend, with whom I have had a long-running disagreement over the issue of foreign talents, fired the latest salvo by sending me a link to an article published in the Malaysian Star:

The Malaysian report purports to report that employers' hiring message in Singapore these days has morphed from the seemingly innocuous "Foreigners welcome" to the downright explicit "Foreigners preferred".

Such an article would have provoked a stir of dispproval among Singaporeans. The argument sounds almost absurd: Where else in the world are citizens increasingly marginalised by influx of minoroties into the country? But reading the article only reinforced my own set of arguments.

1) "Every time such an ad appears, it cuts into the popularity of the government, which won 66.6% of the popular votes in the 2006 election."
The article correctly points out such politically sensitive ads would never have been allowed in other developed countries. But that's only because the citizens in those developed countries know to show their displeasure with their votes. The winds of change has been sweeping across countries more accustomed to long-standing one-party rules. The LDP of Japan has lost power for the first time in 50 years, and UMNO of Malaysia is looking cautiously over its shoulders after a demoralising setback last year. But Singapore? It seems that we are a small island sheltered from typhoons and political winds too. Against the backdrop of a docile electorate, the government is only being rational in putting the rights of its citizens on a backseat. Ask yourself: How many times do you place the concerns/complaints of a more vocal client over that of a more compliant one?

2)"The foreigners, hungrier and without family responsibility here, generally work longer hours for less pay – something that married Singaporeans with a home mortgage to pay cannot possibly match."
While serving NS and having reservist call-ups are valid gripes outside the sphere of control of Singaporean (males), having a family are personal choices. We always forget that the foreigners are also human beings who, by dint of circumstances, have given up the joys of having a family for the sake of surviving in a cut-throat world. And then comes the average Singaporean who, perhaps somewhat complacently, decides to settle down, saddles himself with debt, only to find himself unable to compete with the hungrier foreigners. Is this a case of having the cake and eating it too?

3) Lastly, the problem of foreigners flooding a country or industry is not a uniquely singaporean affair. Just like there is very little Hainan about Hainese Chicken Rice, and very little European about European options, there is very little English about the English Premier League. Foreigners outnumber locals in this highly lucrative industry. Teams like Arsenal frequently boast 11 non-locals in their lineups on matchday. Managers have no qualms going on record stating that they prefer foreigners to English, because they are more talented and/or cheaper. European law makers have been silent on such cross-border employment, because they were the ones who set the wheel in motion, but are now powerless to stop it. So now we have a situation with Singapore fans griping about the flood of immigrants in their country while cheering for foreign players like Ronaldo (Portuguese) and Thierry Henry(French)in the English Premier League. Now this is uniquely Singaporean.

I could go on about the dominance of foreigners in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and how the centuries-old open-door policies have been the cornerstones of American and French nation-building, but that's another point.