Singapore on Saturday hinted at the possibility of reducing the intake of foreign workers. No specifics were immediately spelt out.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his Chinese New Year Message 2010, said: “We are at a turning point in our economic development. We cannot continue importing foreign workers as liberally as before, because we will run up against space constraints.”

Singapore and Malaysia have served as two key East Asian destinations of choice for the Indian labour in recent decades.

Without amplifying the reasons for a possible policy shift, Mr. Lee merely traced a new trend-line in what was essentially a message of traditional greetings to his compatriots.

The Economic Strategies Committee had “recommended moderating the inflow of foreign workers,” he said. The panel also proposed the raising of productivity-growth from the one per cent to two or three per cent so that a GDP growth of three-to-five per cent could be sustained over the next decade. “Beyond the numbers, this means a significant shift in our strategy, from merely expanding [the economy] to upgrading [it],” Mr. Lee emphasised.

A reduced inflow of foreign labour would mean that Singapore’s “total workforce will expand more slowly, which by itself would imply slower economic growth.” To make up for this and achieve the GDP target, “we must raise productivity much faster and do more with the resources that we have,” he pointed out.

The importing of fewer foreign workers “does not mean less competition for Singaporeans”. The “upgrading” of the City-State’s overall economic productivity was, therefore, a vital task.

Another challenge for Singapore was demographic in scope. “We need enough babies to replace ourselves in the next generation. We also need to preserve a core of citizens who are born here and have grown up here, who will maintain and pass on the values and spirit of our nation,” said Mr. Lee.

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