No matter what is done by Singapore’s government, I believe that immigrants would not be able to integrate into Singapore to the extent of being recognized by locals as another of them. Along with many other reasons, the baseline would be the differences in many aspects such as but not limited to physical appearance, accents, culture, behavior, and past experiences. These differences which the between the citizens and immigrants are not things that can be changed or removed overnight, and are generally perceived negatively by citizens, causing feelings of unfamiliarity towards the immigrants, which could potentially escalate to become those of hostility due to more reasons which would be elaborated on further below.
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Firstly, with an impressive rank of 3rd in the world for population density at a staggering 8118.16 people per square kilometers, it should not come as a surprise that Singapore struggles to accommodate such a population, with limitations in infrastructure such as the quantity of housing, and dwindling quality of transport systems as seen in recent breakdowns in the MRT system. Furthermore with the percentage of standing at a whopping 64%, it is only natural when locals who feel frustrated and worried start to push the blame for Singapore’s overcrowding on the influx of new citizens coming in Singapore, and harbor a dislike for them due to the decreased quality of life.
Secondly, the addition of new citizens in Singapore also means increased demand for the same supply of jobs, which leads to competition between new citizens and locals. As the new citizens coming into Singapore tend to be well educated and highly qualified, locals hold an innate fear that their jobs will be stolen, and eventually be given a lower social status or value than the new citizens. Furthermore with the influx of relatively well-to-do new citizens entering Singapore, this could potentially contort the rich-poor divide into an extreme one where the smaller richer population is dominated by new citizens, and the larger poorer population is dominated by locals. Thus locals would harbor resentment against new citizens, and use their longer held Singaporean identity as a defense mechanism to define their superiority and being more deserving of jobs. However, due to a meritocratic system, locals are rendered jobless when new citizens are better qualified. Hence there is a strong feeling of possessiveness of the Singapore citizenship, along with bitterness and resentment towards new citizens, as the idea of superiority over new citizens is based on a proudly proclaimed citizenship, which unlike locals, immigrants would not initially have owned. The cost of living would increase due to the increase in demand for the same supply of things such as HDB flats, cars, and even day-to-day commodities. Linking to the rich-poor divide, this would further decrease the quality of life for locals who are not as affluent, and cause further feelings of hostility.
Moving on, sociobehavioral differences in culture and behavior also sets off discord and displeasure between locals and new citizens when new citizens, failing to notice the unwritten rules and stigmas regarding behavior in public in Singapore, carry out actions that may affect, irritate or inconvenience others. Adding fuel to the fire, common negative stereotyping of these cultural differences only draws a larger difference between locals and new citizens, causing sweeping generalizations of certain groups which leads to discrimination, which is an undesirable outcome contrasting with the concept of integration. Additionally, with the 64% of the population being new citizens who come into Singapore with new ideas, beliefs, cultures, and values, there is among citizens a looming fear of dilution of the Singaporean culture as well as the lack of a cultural identity in the future.
To tackle some of the issues pertaining to infrastructure, the government should manage space more efficiently with better planning, plan for housing unit quantity according to the population size and invest effectively to provide citizens with a reliable, fuss-free transport system. However, it is notable that this is what Singapore’s government has been attempting to do for years, unfortunately without actually being able to solve the problem.
Regarding the issue of competition with new citizens and increased cost of living, the government should continue offering financial aid to families living in poverty who struggle to make ends meet, while locals should continue to strive to continue improving themselves and learn new skills applicable to the economy to stay relevant and competent. The government can also play its part to invite more multinational corporations (MNCs) to base themselves in Singapore so the supply of jobs can be increased so more people can have jobs, and would improve the economy as well in this action that would reap multiple benefits.
However, being the biggest stakeholder, the largest need for change would still reside in the locals, who bear an undesirable but understandable hostility towards new citizens. For integration, a sincere desire to be hospitable and welcome the new citizens is key. Hence, a change in mindset and attitude to have empathy, compassion and initiative in locals towards those who are intent on joining Singapore as a citizen, and embrace the positive differences that locals can learn from. Locals need to take into consideration that successful integration would not result in a displacement or fading of Singapore’s culture, but instead contributions and additions to it, which would only increase its vibrancy and make it all the more unique. There needs to be an understanding that if these new citizens are successfully integrated into Singapore, it is only then that the new citizens have a reason to pledge their allegiance towards Singapore and their will to protect the country at all costs would then be strongest. As economic benefits are definitely an alluring characteristic of Singapore, all the more locals need to show through a strong spirit of hospitality and show of Singapore’s unique culture that Singapore is more than a gold mine and worth protecting at all costs. However, the government needs to acknowledge that for a change in mindset to occur, efforts to integrate new citizens in terms of their social circle and education of behavioral norms should be stepped up such that new citizens understand how to behave appropriately in public, and reduce xenophobia in Singapore.
Although much can definitely be done by the locals to welcome and integrate new citizens into Singapore, we need to realize that this desired hospitality in locals cannot be wholehearted and sincere very much due to Singapore’s inevitably competitive environment, where in one way or another someone from either side would lose out and be rendered jobless or at a lower social status, causing feelings of hostility. Hence, while government efforts would definitely be able to improve the situation and possibly integrate new citizens a little better, a deep-seated tension between the locals and new citizens concerning their jobs, dignities and livelihoods in Singapore’s cut-throat competitive work environment, is what stands as the baseline reason why I feel that new citizens can never be fully accepted into society as just another one of the true-blue Singaporean, no matter how many favorable the government makes the conditions and environment to be.
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