SINGAPORE, March 21, 2009 (AFP) - Singapore, which is facing its worst recession in history, needs foreigners to survive in the long-term, founding father Lee Kuan Yew said.
The city-state is not reproducing itself fast enough and the government has in recent years opened its doors to attract more talented migrants to avert a serious population shortage.
"Without new citizens and permanent residents, we are going to be 'The Last of the Mohicans'. We will disappear," Lee, 85, told an audience at a local university late Friday.
Lee is the country's first prime minister and remains an influential figure. He is an adviser in his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's cabinet with the title minister mentor.
Singapore needs a fertility rate of 2.1 babies per woman to maintain its population naturally but a string of incentives including monetary ones to encourage Singaporeans to have babies has failed to make an impact.
A report released this month by the Department of Statistics showed 39,935 babies were born in 2008, well short of the 60,000 births the country needs each year.
Singapore has a population of 4.84 million, including about one million foreigners who work in the country and their families.
The local economy is projected to shrink by up to 5.0 percent in 2009 and the elder Lee told the audience at the university it may take up to six years to recover in a worse-case scenario.
In a sign of how tough times are, Singaporeans trained as engineers are looking for jobs such as bus drivers once shunned by locals, The Straits Times reported Saturday.