SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s population has shrunk for the first time since 2003 as travel restrictions and job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic have pushed foreign workers out of the global business center.
The total population has fallen by about 1
The sharp decline in foreigners, by 2% to 1.64 million, as well as a slight decline in permanent residents, outpaced the modest growth of citizens, some of whom returned from abroad when the pandemic spread worldwide.
“These trends are largely due to the challenges associated with COVID-19 due to weak demand and travel constraints,” the report said, citing job losses in a service sector heavily dependent on low-paid foreign labor.
As the economy faces the deepest recession in its history – an economic downturn officially estimated between 5% -7% for the year, the government is raising barriers to foreign employment to keep jobs for locals.
But authorities at the low-tax corporate center, which houses the Asian headquarters of many multinational companies, also warned that a populist turnaround could hurt business.
“We must be careful not to give the false impression that we are now closing down and no longer accepting foreigners,” Prime Minister Li Sien Lun said earlier this month after elections in which opposition parties criticized the government’s immigration policy as too relaxed.
Singapore’s non-resident population has more than doubled in the last 20 years, driving population growth in a city-state with one of the lowest birth rates in the world.
This has raised recurring concerns about job competition and tensions over public infrastructure, which came to the fore again in the July 10 vote, with the ruling People’s Party of Action ceding a record number of opposition seats.
“With the increase in activity, there may be a shortage of manpower on the road again,” said Selena Ling, head of cash research and strategy at OCBC Bank.
Report by John Gedi, Aradhana Aravindan and Chen Lin. Edited by Gary Doyle