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Pandemic Pushes Down Singapore Population for First Time Since 2003

September 25, 2020, 04.11 PM

SINGAPORE, – The coronavirus pandemic caused the Singapore population to shrink by 0.3 percent or 18,000 people as travel curbs and job losses pushed foreign workers out of the city-state.

The population decline happened for the first time since 2003 and the city-state is now home to 5.69 million people, according to an annual report on the Singapore population.

A sharp drop in foreigners, down 2 percent to 1.64 million, as well as a marginal fall in permanent residents, outweighed a modest rise in citizens, some of whom returned from overseas as the pandemic spread globally.

Read also: Recession-Hit Singapore Dominates Q2 FDI in Indonesia: BKPM

"These trends were largely due to Covid-19 related challenges, brought about by weak demand and travel restrictions," the report said, citing job losses in services, a sector heavily reliant on low-paid foreign labour.

As the economy faces the deepest recession in its history — an economic decline officially estimated between 5 and 7 percent for the year — the government has been raising barriers for foreign hiring to preserve jobs for locals.

Read also: Singapore to Track Incoming Travellers Quarantine Compliance Via Electronic Device

But authorities in the low-tax corporate hub, home to the Asian headquarters of many multinational companies, have also warned that a populist turn could hurt business.

"We must be careful not to give the wrong impression that we are now closing up and no longer welcoming foreigners," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech earlier this month, after an election in which opposition parties criticised the government's immigration policies as too slack.

Read also: Foreign Workers in Singapore Under Spotlight as Unemployment Rate Rises

Singapore's non-resident population has more than doubled over the last 20 years, powering population growth in a city-state with one of the world's lowest birth rates.

This has prompted recurring concerns about competition for jobs and the strains on public infrastructure, which again came to the fore on the July 10 ballot, in which the ruling People's Action Party ceded a record number of seats to the opposition.

"As activities ramp up there may be a manpower shortage again down the road," said Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank.

(Writers: John Geddie, Aradhana Aravindan, Chen Lin | Editor: Gerry Doyle)


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