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MPs Cedric Foo and Chen Show Mao clash over immigration

Members of Parliament Cedric Foo and Chen Show Mao go back and forth over the need for immigrants, in light of Singapore's ageing society, and Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang says his Workers' Party is "not anti-immigration".

SINGAPORE: Immigration proved to be a hot topic in Parliament on Friday (May 30). Member of Parliament for Pioneer SMC Cedric Foo, quizzed Workers' Party MP Chen Show Mao on his party's stance on the issue. 

Mr Chen had just spoken about investing in elderly Singaporeans, when Mr Foo fired the first salvo. Their exchange is reproduced below.

Mr Cedric Foo: "He speaks about ageing issues and ageing society and I want to thank him for supporting the effort to engage Singaporeans in a dialogue to see how we may address this. But really, underpinning the ageing population, is the need to bring in immigrants, and I would like to seek his view to see if he thinks it's necessary for Singapore's long-term future to bring in immigrants."

Mr Chen Show Mao: "I believe our focus should be on the growing of a resident workforce. That includes the elderly workers whom we can help to participate more in our economy. When targets we set for the growth in our resident working population are not met, when targets we set are not met, then I think at that time, foreign workers may be - the number of foreign workers may be increased, so that so that we are on a path to growth as we have planned. The Workers' Party position on this is clear, and that is we will focus on the growth of the resident workforce and when that falls short, the population of foreign workers in Singapore may be increased."

Mr Cedric Foo: "Madam Speaker, thank you, the honorable member for his reply, but I was really asking about immigrant inflow into Singapore. Do we reverse the pyramid that has now been inverting? Because by 2030 as this House has heard, there will be 900,000 Singaporeans above the age of 65 and because families are getting smaller, we do need immigrants. And I'd like Mr Chen's comments on whether he welcomes immigrants and whether he would rally the support of Singaporeans to bring about these immigrants, so that they are on our side; they help us compete, they help us stabilise the society."

Mr Chen Show Mao: "I have worked abroad for many years in my life and I thank foreigners, foreign governments, foreign friends for the opportunities that I was given, to work in the country. Of course, we have, of course I have - we have nothing against immigrants coming to Singapore, but we're talking about an orderly growth within limits that hopefully, we would have debated and agreed on, and that is not inconsistent with what I have said, what we have said on immigration on foreign workers in Singapore. And I would like to ask Mr Foo if that is what he had in mind in asking the question."

Mr Cedric Foo: "We have debated this issue of ageing population robustly. The Government has put up a plan under Deputy Prime Minister Teo. I've been trying to explain also to my residents why we have to do this.

On the economic front, if we allow the society to age, our tax base will narrow and there is no guarantee that high tax payers, talented people will remain in Singapore. We hope they do and we will work hard that they will do, but there is no guarantee of that. On the security front, our battalions will have to be smaller. On the political front, people will vote for ageing issues. I mean, the old in our society when they start to outnumber the young, would ask for even more than healthcare.

Where does this leave future Singaporeans? We discussed constructive politics, how members of different parties should come together and enlighten the population, the populace, the voters about the trade-offs, but so far we gave not heard the Workers' Party hand-in-hand if they believe in this policy to reach out to the people to support immigration and listening to Mr Chen, I'm still not very clear whether the party and himself supports bringing in immigration.

And you cannot do this overnight, because you need time for them to assimilate. You cannot wait until the labour participation fails and decide to bring in a deluge of immigrants to flood the population. We need to do this gradually, to plan ahead. We need to do it in a consistent assimilable way. Thank you."

At this point, Workers' Party Chief Low Thia Khiang stands up to clarify his party's position on the issue.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: "On the issue of immigration, I thought we stated clearly and many a time, I believe the party's MPs have repeated the position of The Workers Party. The Workers' Party is not an anti-immigration party. I make it clear here. We're not anti-immigration.

We welcome immigration which can contribute to the well-being of Singapore and to the economy of Singapore. We welcome foreign talent. Talent, real talent, not immigrants who are taking away the job of Singaporeans or taking away opportunities that Singaporeans could have been given, or be better served, having. So let's make it clear here, we are not anti-immigration. What we're saying is we have got to have quality immigrants.

Secondly, we have to make the Singaporean core strong. I think it is simple, too simplified, to assume that when the immigrants come to Singapore, they will integrate with Singapore and Singaporeans and be part of Singapore. I think it's not that simple.

I think in the Population White Paper - we've debated a lot on this - we have set out The Workers' Party position clearly. I hope members go and read the White Paper, it's published on the website, so you understand our position. We are not running away from the position."

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