"But much more important than the legal status are the intangible factors, the 'heart' part, that make citizenship meaningful," he said on Saturday during a ceremony welcoming 200 new citizens as they received their identification certificates in Ang Mo Kio.
"Whom you identify with, what you identify with, the values, the goals, the aspirations of your people. Your loyalty, which is your country, who are your fellow citizens. And the emotional attachment, of you and your family, the places, the memories, where you feel you really belong."
Recognising the increasing tension between local Singaporeans and new citizens, he emphasised that the practices new citizens were used to “may not be considered socially acceptable in Singapore”, Yahoo Singapore reported.
In recent years the issue of immigration and the number of foreigners in Singapore have been in the spotlight, and they have raised disquiet among the populace. The presence of these foreigners has been cited by Singaporeans as being potentially detrimental to the social cohesion which Singapore society has enjoyed for many decades. Non-Singaporeans have been blamed for everything from the high prices of public housing flats to the crowded public transport system.
Also, Government ministers and Members of Parliament (MP) had called on Singaporeans to integrate and welcome these foreigners, much to the chagrin of the locals. “Why should we bend over and integrate with them, instead of them making the effort to integrate with us instead?” is a rebuttal often heard whenever Singaporeans are urged to extend a welcoming hand to non-Singaporeans.
PM Lee also expressed the Government’s awareness of the unhappiness among Singaporeans. “Of course, we also have to manage the numbers and the flow and make sure that we're not overwhelmed,” he said.
In this regard, the Ministry for Manpower announced a tightening of the rules for foreign workers who wish to sponsor their spouse and children for their stay in Singapore. From Sept 1, foreign workers must earn at least S$4,000 a month compared with the current S$2,800 before their families will be allowed to bring their families here.
The ministry said this is “part of the overall direction to moderate growth of Singapore’s non-resident population.”
“This will help ease the pressure on our social infrastructure. Nonetheless, Singapore remains a global talent capital.”
The Government also introduced amendments to the Immigration Act aimed at permanent residents. Under the proposed amendments, permanent residents who flout Singapore’s laws or are involved in any activity which “threatens a breach of peace or is prejudicial to public order” will lose their permanent residency status or have their re-entry permit cancelled.
This latter move is perhaps a reaction to the recent spate of incidents involving non-Singaporeans and permanent residents which have hogged the headlines and raised the ire of locals.
It would thus seem that the Government is being more sensitive to the sentiments on the ground, and acting in a more timely fashion to disquiet, unlike in the past when it would dismiss these sentiments and admonish Singaporeans for being “xenophobic”.
Thus, PM Lee’s call and the changes proposed by the MOM are timely, reflecting the sentiment expressed by Singaporeans for the Government to direct its integration call at the new citizens and foreigners, and for the Government to regulate the number of foreigners allowed into Singapore.
While Singaporeans are indeed right in expressing unhappiness at the influx of some 2 million foreigners onto our shores, it is also good to keep in mind that we do not want a society fragmented or fractured among the different nationalities, or among new citizens and Singaporeans.
Everyone has a part to play in how our country turns out, going forward – Singaporeans have to realise that the fault lies not in the individual non-Singaporean or new citizen, but on the policies which have facilitated the large influx of them. The Government too must continue to regulate, or bring down, the number of foreigners in our midst.
New citizens and non-Singaporeans certainly also have the responsibility to recognise and realise that Singapore is what it is today because Singaporeans at all levels have worked very hard to make the country what it is – and they should respect this and do their part to not divide and fracture what Singaporeans have built.
In brief, they should understand that while we welcome them, we are not servants to them.