Saturday, November 17, 2007

Our foreign talent policy is short-sighted

The front page of Weekend Today (17 November 2007) carried two headlines.

1) “Cracks in society are showing” – SM Goh raises concern as foreign talent stats hit new high.

2) “If only they were given the time”

Interestingly, I find that the second headline provides the answer to the issue raised in headline number 1.

In the first article, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong basically points out the problem that with the rapid influx of foreigners into Singapore, many of them are finding it hard to assimilate into Singapore society. I was not surprised. Are you?

It is common sense really. How can you expect people to adapt so quickly to a new society. The mainland Chinese may look like Singapore Chinese (and likewise the Indians) but he is more different from us that a local Indian or Malay culturally. I think you need years to achieve this kind of adaptation. Let me give you two personal examples.

Recently I received a marketing call from a lady who was obviously a mainland Chinese. She was trying to sell some services related to property. She asked if I could understand Chinese; and I answered yes. Then she launched into her sales pitch. But she was speaking so quickly and coupled with her mainland Chinese accent, I had difficulty following her. I asked her to slow down and she did … for a while; and then she reverted to her incomprehensible rapid-fire Chinese. In the end, I simply gave up.

On the other hand, I had an opportunity to meet a classmate of my son, an 18-year old China scholar who had been studying in Singapore for about four years. I had little difficulty communicating with him. His English, though a little different from ours, was perfectly comprehensible.

These two encounters with mainland Chinese clearly shows how difficult it is to make adjustment in just one area – the way we speak; and I am not even talking about learning a new language. This is particularly true for the adults. The bottom line is that they need more time. In the light of this, I wonder, is it wise to bring in foreign talents into our country in such huge numbers?

My own conclusion is that our government’s foreign talent policy is short-sighted. Our economy is growing and our population growth is too slow. Answer? Bring in more foreigners lor.

On paper, it looks impressive. We are forward-looking. We anticipate problems before they arise. We act fast and grab the talents before the other developed countries do so. But I think it is short-sighted because it is basically a quick-fix solution which brings with it many long term consequences; some of which like the one mentioned by SM Goh, are quite predictable. There are probably many others. For example, our recent spats with the China-born athletes have also raised another problem related to their commitment to our country.

I think we should really re-look at our foreign talent policy. For a start, take a look at the problems faced by other societies that have adopted a similar policy; for example the UK and US. Are there lessons for us there?

We should also re-look at our assumptions. Just because they are from China and India, and we have a large Chinese and Indian population does not mean that they are like us. Singaporeans are very ‘westernised’. Our Chinese have been labeled as ‘bananas’ by the Taiwanese and mainland Chinese – yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Looks can be deceiving.


Anonymous said...

A lady calling your mobile asking if you can speak chinese? Did she proceed to ask you if you can help out in her "survey"? And she spoke in mainland chinese accent? This is now pretty much a well-known scam. Depending on which variety you get, She would go on with some lucky draw or something and then ask for your bank account details and a transaction charge for your winnings etc.


zen said...

If all the foreign talents who come here are people we really need we have nothing to say, in fact many developed countries are doing likewise. Similarly those foreign workers on work permits doing tough manual jobs which are shunned by the locals, that also we have nothing to comment on, but the problem is the govt is allowing many unskilled workers to come in, why? Are they necessary?