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Singapore economy would fail without foreigners: Lee

Singapore: Closing the doors to foreign workers would tank Singapore’s economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cautioned today as he sought to allay concerns of the countrymen on the “tough issue” of foreigners and immigration.

The Prime Minister highlighted the role of foreigners in the economy of the city state, saying there are no easy choices and every option carries a downside and some pain of tanking the economy.

“Closing the doors to foreign workers would tank the economy. Companies would not have enough workers and some would close, meaning jobs lost. Foreign workers are also needed to build homes (mostly working in the construction sector),” the Channel News Asia quoted Lee as saying.

“While the Government has heard Singaporeans’ strong views on the tough issue of foreigners and immigration, and has adjusted its policies, there are no easy choices – and every option carries a downside and some pain,” said Lee in his traditional annual speech at the National Day Rally.

Lee cited policy changes that had been made, saying the government has upgraded infrastructure, slowed down the inflow of foreign workers, tightened up on the approval of permanent residency and citizenship applications for foreigners, and made sure that Singaporeans are fairly treated at work.

“But on this matter, there are not easy choices. Every option has a downside,” the Channel News Asia quoted Lee saying at the rally this evening.

“On the other hand, letting in too many foreign workers would lead society to come undone,” said Lee.

Singaporeans would be crowded out, workplaces would feel foreign and our identity would be diluted.

“So, we have to find something in between – but even then, there is a trade-off,” he said.

“Companies would still find costs going up and would have to pass some of this on to consumers; they would also have to pass up opportunities because they can’t find the workers,” said Lee.

Yet, because some foreign workers would still be coming in, “some Singaporeans would still feel that Singapore is changing too fast, and would still resent having to compete with non-Singaporeans, whichever option we choose will involve some pain,” Lee noted.

“I believe that I am doing what Singapore needs and what best safeguards your interest. If I did not believe that, I would not be doing it. It is my responsibility to make this judgement and act on your behalf. And having acted, I owe it to you to account to you for my decisions, for doing what I did.”

Singapore is at a turning point, Lee said, “Soon, I will be calling elections, to ask for your mandate to take Singapore into this next phase of our nation-building.”

A number of issues including the increasing presence of foreigners, estimated at more than one million in over five million population, is among the political and economic issues likely to be raised at the elections by Singaporeans.

General elections are expected within a month as political parties, including Lee’s Peoples Action Party, have started announcing their candidates for constituencies.