As foreigners leave, Singapore sees its population decline for the first time since 2003

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s population has shrunk for the first time since 2003 as travel restrictions and job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic pushed foreign workers out of the global business hub.

Office workers wearing face masks walk through Singapore’s central business district during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic in Singapore, August 17, 2020. REUTERS / Edgar Su / Files

The overall population has fallen by about 18,000 people, or 0.3 percent, to 5.69 million, according to an annual population report.

A sharp drop in the number of foreigners, down 2% to 1.64 million, along with a marginal decline in the number of permanent residents, offset a modest increase in the number of citizens, some of whom returned from abroad as the pandemic spread around the world.

“These trends were in large part due to challenges related to COVID-19, brought about by weak demand and travel restrictions,” the report said, citing job losses in the services, a sector heavily dependent on labor. low-paid foreign labor.

As the economy faces the deepest recession in its history – an economic decline officially estimated to be between 5% and 7% for the year – the government has erected barriers to overseas hiring in order to preserve the jobs of the inhabitants.

But authorities at the Low-Tax Business Center, home to the Asian headquarters of many multinational companies, have also warned that a populist shift could hurt businesses.

“We have to be careful not to give the false impression that we are now closing and no longer welcoming foreigners,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech earlier this month, after an election in which the parties opposition critics criticized the government’s immigration policies as too loose.

Singapore’s non-resident population has more than doubled over the past 20 years, fueling population growth in a city-state with one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

This sparked recurring concerns over competition for jobs and strains on public infrastructure, which again emerged in the July 10 poll, in which the ruling People’s Action Party ceded a record number of seats in the opposition.

“As business intensifies, there may be a labor shortage again,” said Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank. .

Reportage by John Geddie, Aradhana Aravindan and Chen Lin. Montage by Gerry Doyle

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