Singaporeans of all races and backgrounds, as well as foreigners engaged Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean in a dialogue on Saturday afternoon.

Organised by Young Sikh Association (Singapore), the session attracted close to 400 people.

The influx of foreigners who compete with locals such spheres as jobs and places in tertiary institutions, and the divide between Singaporeans and new citizens and foreigners dominated the two-hour dialogue session.

DPM Teo said stated that the issue of foreigners needs to put into perspective, “Some work here and go back. They make a contribution to Singapore and they earn a decent living for themselves. Others come here to work for longer periods of time, and finally others, they come here and they finally decide to sink roots. And they hope over time to become like you and me.”

He reiterated the point made by his government in recent month: Singapore needs to attract foreign workers to create a stronger, better Singapore for its citizens.

A young lawyer suggested that having foreigners, particularly front-line staff, take an English language test. He reckoned this would not be too a difficult task, given that Singapore such a test for foreign domestic workers. DPM Teo replied that such a test is possible and it is something for the industry to consider.

Other suggestions included ensuring that jobs are first offered to Singaporeans before foreigners, increasing base salaries for jobs that Singaporeans are not keen to take on so as to make them more attractive, and restricting foreign worker employment to specific sectors.

Some expressed concern with competition with foreigners for places in local tertiary institutions. A student from the National University of Singapore said that some locals, despite scoring well, were unable to get into their desired course of study.

In response, DPM Teo said, “Even if you create more places in medical school or law school, there will be more applicants who want to get there than there will be places. That is just something that students will have to live with. If you double the number of places, are we going to have enough places to satisfy everybody who thinks he ought to be in medical school? It is not possible. But do we have places for those who can go to university? The answer is yes.”

He added that the competition was not in Singapore, but the world, “There are two ways in bringing up kids. One is that it is a tough world out there so the longer you can shelter them, the better… The other philosophy is that it is a tough world out there and the sooner you find out, the better. I think we have to find the right balance between the two.”

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