Mailbox: How to help foreigners integrate

Of late, the debate over the presence of foreigners and permanent residents (PRs) in Singapore seems to have intensified.

There have been reports on the furore over plans to hold a Philippine Independence Day celebration in Orchard Road. A Straits Times survey also found that immigration continues to be a sticking point ("Foreign workers: Many still feel issue can be handled better"; April 19).

On the Internet, xenophobic views and comments accusing PRs of taking higher-paying jobs from Singaporeans are aplenty.

If left unchecked, these divides will dismantle the social fabric of Singapore, if it is not happening already.

As has been pointed out by others, a key reason for the growing fault lines is the lack of real integration and mutual trust.

Some concerns are valid. For instance, I heard that some PRs have social circles that consist largely of individuals from other countries.

While I applaud the Government for introducing measures to ease infrastructure problems, perhaps more can be done to facilitate the integration of our foreign-born friends.

Some measures include:

- Encouraging PRs to take up Singapore citizenship, with the objective of growing our population.

- Assessing all PR and citizenship applications based on not just economic contributions, but also social contributions.

- Permanent residency should come with a fixed term, following which applications have to be re-assessed based on the individual's social contributions and whether he intends to take up citizenship.

- Introducing a form of national service for all new citizens and PRs, which can be a cross between National Education and military service.

- Conducting "exit interviews" with PRs who have given up their PR status, with the aim of improving integration measures.

- Making it mandatory for employers to conduct lessons on English and a local language for their foreign employees, to help them integrate.

At the same time, Singaporeans need to be educated on the harmful impact of xenophobia.

It is no use making all foreigners feel unwelcome here. Unless we have more children, our country will continue to need a foreign workforce to keep it running.

Letter by Christopher Chong

This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.

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