Foreigners vs Locals

4 Comments 05 September 2012 / by

When I first came to Singapore 5 years ago, it was a rare sighting to see foreigners (esp caucasians) in the suburb areas. Many foreigners came to Singapore as a high-level expat where their company put them in a luxury apartments in downtown area, with their kids going to the international school, all paid for by the company, of course. Btw, this does not include me and hubby, as we came to Singapore, hired as locals from the beginning.

At the time, there were no Marina Bay Sands in the landscape, no Universal World as a tourist attraction and MRT was not as crowded as it is now.

Singapore government has always adopted an “open-door” policy in welcoming talented, highly qualified skilled foreigners to work and live in Singapore. A small country without any natural resources, Singapore’s economy is heavily dependent on its manpower. However, with a relatively small population, declining birth rate and a dependency ratio of nearly 40%, Singapore has to turn to foreigners to boost the size of its labor force.

Back then, the Singaporean government already laid out their plan to increase their population by opening their doors to foreigners. The total population was around 4 million and they want to bring up the population by 6 million. Besides the open-door policy to foreigners, the government was also very big in encouraging their citizens to make more babies. Many programs were offered to Singaporeans, from baby bonus to increased child care leaves, even an extra month of paid maternity leave.

Fast forward 5 years later.

These days, it is common to see people from different races live and work even in the suburb areas. I have always chose to live in Bedok, which is on the eastern part of Singapore, near to Changi. By car, it’s less than 15K from the city area, so it’s not far yet it’s not so close either. My office was always in the eastern part of the island, so it was just natural that I looked for an apartment in the area so I can be closer to office.

My daughter went to a childcare which is run by locals (even though it’s an international franchise). The teachers are Singaporeans (except maybe the Mandarin teachers), located in the heart of local hub. When she first entered the daycare, she was probably one of the few non-Singaporeans who attended the daycare. These days, I can even see a few blonde kids going to the same daycare, some even resided in the same building complex as we are. When I go for a run in the reservoir, it’s normal to see a fair-skinned runner (or even a dark-skinned with big eyes and curly hair, who is definitely not Singaporean) going on the same path as I am.

So yes, within 5 years, this island has definitely grown in population. By 2011, the population has grown more than 20%. The landscape in downtown has definitely changed, there are more MRT lines, more crowded streets, more cars, and with that.. more issues.

More and more Singaporeans are now complaining about the so called “foreign talent” who are now “invading” their country. A lot of the issues that is now arisen in the country, they blamed the foreigners for it. Some argue that it’s not the foreigners that they’re against, but the government’s immigration policies that allow these foreigners to enter their country and make a living here. Yet, they think that these foreigners should adopt the local lifestyle instead of bringing their culture and ignore the locals. This particularly the sentiments toward the non-skilled labors. Singaporeans believe that the government should do more to educate foreigners on the culture and lifestyle here.

Being a country with so many restrictions and the citizens who are very proper to follow the laws & regulations, I kinda understand if the Singaporeans are not so welcome with those foreigners bring their bad habits to the country, particularly those who cannot obey the rules. One case that really blows up to the max was when the Chinese Ferrari driver drove beyond the maximum limit and crashed into a taxi and killed 3 people and injured a few others. This fatal accident gave an already disgruntled Singaporeans another reason to vent their frustration at the government’s pro-immigration policies which have resulted in over a million foreign workers and professionals into the crowded city-state.

But over time, this sentiment grows to no apparent reason. There was a suicide in the reservoir, they blame the foreigners for bring up the cost of living and therefore people are stressed out with their lives and chose to commit suicide. The MRT line was down, they pinpoint the foreigners as the culprit, God knows for what. Many forums discuss this and blame how Singapore becomes a high-priced city where everything is expensive. They feel that the government only takes care of the foreigners, while they are being left with “hard life”.

Truth is, it’s the world crisis that everyone faces and people in other continents are even at a worse situation. These skilled foreigners who are left with no job came to Singapore and willing to work with local pay, no expat salary or perks, as long as they have a job. Now, instead of living in the high-rise luxury buildings, they live in an HDB flats, shop in the local markets, put their kids in the public schools and local daycare. This make Singaporeans mad because they thought that as foreigners they must be paid higher money, yet they reap the local benefits.

So, it is interesting to know that a survey done by revealed 93% of respondents said that their companies hired non-Singaporeans and that they made up 30% to 50% of the company’s workforce. Interestingly, while 66% of employees believed the main reason for hiring the foreigners because they were cheaper, only 16% ofemployers said this was the main reason for hiring them.

Instead 40% of employers said the main reason for hiring foreigners was because they were able to take up jobs that lcoals would avoid. While another 24% said foreigners were more diligent and would work longer hours.


singaporeans have evolved and moved upscale in terms of lifestyle. Many are not willing to work with lower pay and they don’t want to take jobs that they think “not so cool”. A good example, being a waiter/waitress or sales assistant at a retail shop. More and more of these jobs are being held by foreigners. Singaporeans don’t think that the jobs pay well enough to cover their expenses. So they avoid the job. Or even if they do work in a retail shop, they are not taking the job seriously that they would bring in the added value service to the customers. Because of that, customer experience was declining and customers are not happy, and employers are not happy. While on the other hand, these foreigners came to look for a job in Singapore, take the job seriously and have the integrity to do well and serve their retail customers.

Then the argument would still coming. Singaporeans would argue that they need to work with a good pay because they need to feed their family, who live here in Singapore where the prices are higher. So to take up the low-pay job is, of course, out of the question. Although it is believed that Singaporeans are more educated and qualified, so therefore, they should be paid slightly higher. But is it really true?

I don’t know, honestly. The argument would never stop, I guess, with no right or wrong value. But I do think that blaming foreigners for everything may not also be the correct sentiment. These foreigners help to bring in the revenues to the country, making Singapore as it is now. Without these foreigners, who would be giving out a good service to the customers and tourists, who are the main audience in the service industry?

I have been a foreigner in a foreign country for almost half of my life now. I always envy the locals for having so much flexibility. I remember that I wish I was an American or at least a Green-card holder when I was in the US, so I can change jobs as easily as the offer comes. I know I was more than qualified for the job and I should have been paid with much higher salary, given my qualifications. But I didn’t because of my status and dependency on the company to sponsor my visa to work and live there.

Same goes now in Singapore. Even though I am already a PR, I’m still bound with limitations. To enroll my kids in the best school, for example. I cannot do that because I’m not Singaporean, so that means my daughter may not be entering the most popular primary in the area (which happened to be right behind my apartment building), because we have to give the slots to Singaporeans kids first.

And as foreigners, I learn my way to blend in with the locals. Learn (as much as I can) to speak and understand the local idioms and dialects, liking the local food, and adopt the lifestyle and culture. I don’t mind that my kids would pick up the Singlish dialect, as long as they are still able to speak English properly if needed.

After all, it is their way to blend in. Their way to survive in the society. For them, Singapore is their home, where they were born, yet their are still a foreigner. When they go home to Indonesia, even it is their “home”, it’s a foreign land to them. I can’t have them feeling like a foreigner everywhere. So, yes, for now.. Singapore is their home and I will let them to do whatever they needed to do to blend in.

Your Comments

4 Comments so far

  1. tyas says:

    nice post, slesta. salam kenal yah 🙂 ternyata hal kayak gini kejadian juga ya di spore, kalo di indonesia sifatnya lebih ke sentimen etnis gitu kali ya (jawa, sunda, minang, dsb). yang namanya pendatang biasanya dipandang ‘sebelah mata’ sama pribumi, padahal seperti yang ditulis di atas, pendatang tsb juga perlu kerja keras untuk bisa beradaptasi dengan lingkungan baru, dan belom tentu juga kehidupan mereka (pendatang) lebih enak dibanding pribumi.

  2. sLesTa says:

    halo tyas, salam kenal juga! gak hanya singapore sih, sebenernya dimana2. di amerika (terutama di NY) ini udah jadi biasa karena udah terjadi dari beratus tahun yang lalu… jadi di NY sih ngeliat different ethnics udah biasa aja. but not so much when you go outside of NY.

    intinya, kadang people just like to assume that others have better life. truth is everyone is fighting their own battle.

  3. Amy Iljas says:

    Hi mbak, salam kenal 🙂
    Persoalannya di seluruh dunia kayaknya sama ya. Kalo di UK, cuma chavas yang suka rasis dg foreigners. Mereka iri karna foreigners (mayoritas iri dg yang Asia) yang kuliah di UK tajir semua (ya orang Asia yg bisa kuliah di LN kan memang mampu), kemudian mereka juga iri dengan kesempatan kerja dan kualitas hidup.

    Jaman 2008 dulu sempet wacana British jobs for british people dikeluarin, untuk meningkatkan level tenaga kerja local, disamping ada juga insentif untuk perusahaan yang ngambil local people, dsb dsb..

    Ternyata? Hasilnya, sama aja tuh. The problem is their mentality. Sempet BBC wawancara beberapa business owners gt. Perusahaan ngambil 3 orang untuk interview sebuah posisi waiter, 2 orang local, 1 pelajar Asia (kebetulan dari Indo). 2 orang local ini dateng cuma karna mereka butuh ttd si interviewer (untuk klaim uang tenaga kerja, bahwa mereka dateng wawancara), udah nanya kapan bisa cuti, mengeluh akan jam kerja, dsb.. Sementara si pelajar Indo, dateng naik kereta dari Edinburgh ke south west UK (which is bisa more than 3 jam), pake dasi, baju rapi. Diambillah si pelajar ini jadi waiter, within 2 years time, dia akhirnya jadi manager salah satu bar tsb.

    Intinya? Aku rasa sih yang pola pikirnya merasa bahwa foreigners mengambil jatah local, cuma chavas yang gak ada nilai juangnya, (no edu, no skills, and absolutely no life). Wajar mereka mikir gitu, gak perlu pake orang asing, dengan sesama local pun mereka gak bisa bersaing and have no value.

  4. marsiamarvin says:

    Hi Shinta, salam kenal!
    Happened to bumped to your article about travelling @ TUM and it leads me to your personal blog. I’m a new mom, living in Singapore in past 6 years. And I couldnt agree more with your statement on the last paragraph.
    I am having 3mo old son and already bugged with the thought of him going to the national service for a country where he was born and grew up but yet categorized as foreigners. So should he serve or not? *sigh* *garuk beton*

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a worker by choice, a mother and a wife by nature / owner of / co-founder of the urban mama / the urban muslimah | email: slesta[at]slesta[dot]com

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