Immigration often implies the adaptation processes of both the immigrant and the host community. Singapore has a history of immigration. Prior to independence in 1965, Singapore has had consistent inflows of immigrant settlers and she continues to receive immigrants through the years. Many have decided to set up home permanently only after having study and work in Singapore for a while. Singapore recognise that for one to settle down in a new country is a major and emotional decision and would need considerable supports and encouragement from the host government and society for immigrants to sink roots there.
Singapore can work on her state integration policies to ease the anxiety and problem faced by the immigrants. Singapore’s state integration policies may be explained using the four ideology clusters; Pluralism, Civic, Assimilation and Ethnist Ideologies (Breton et al, 1988). It is heartening to the immigrants that Singapore is largely a plural society regardless of race, language or religion as embodied in her National Pledge. This allows the immigrant the freedom of linguistic and cultural activities, religious expression, and political association within the confines of Singapore’s criminal and civil laws.
Singapore is a multi-racial society. Different races live in harmony with each other. It is quite an amazing spectacle for immigrants to see the public display of different religious celebrations in Singapore streets. Unlike the civic ideology that advocate non-interference in private values of its individual citizens, Singapore respect and promote the rights of individual in maintaining their group distinctiveness through cultural, linguistic, ethnic, or religious affiliation.
The government even sponsors different ethnical support groups such Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA,) Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) and Eurasian Association (EA) to encourage the individual group’s development and progress. Singapore also encourages the establishment of foreigner’s associations such as Kowloon Club, American Association Singapore, Singapore Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist Association etc. These associations enable the immigrants to maintain their cultural and linguistic distinctiveness and will add value to Singapore, aspiring to be a cosmopolitan city.
From the assimilation ideology perspective, Singapore does not require immigrants to embrace her culture and values and to abandon their own cultural and linguistic distinctiveness for the sake of settling down in Singapore. However through the way of life in Singapore, the education school system, housing system and national service for permanent residence and citizens, it is inevitable that the linguistic and cultural assimilation will occur voluntarily and gradually across the generations.
Singapore does not embrace the Ethnist ideology, requiring immigrant to reject their ethno-cultural identity for the sake of adopting the values and culture of the Singaporeans. Through Singapore state integration policies, it is evident to the immigrants that Singapore embraces an open society that look promising to foreigners; be it students, tourists or professionals, Singapore appears appealing to serious immigrants as her historical background as an immigrant nation do not require the maintenance of a core majority language and culture needed to justify the continued existence of the nation as an unified country (Bibby, 1990).
While the Government can put in place programmes to integrate immigrants into Singapore, the government acknowledge that it is ultimately the immigrants’ experience interacting with locals, which determine their experience here. Adopting the acculturation orientation of integration, Singapore shows willingness to reach out to make the immigrant feel comfortable by supporting and encouraging the private social activities of immigrant communities through their affiliated associations (Berry, 1994).
The immigrants would be naturally assimilated through the Singapore’s unique way of life in the long run. To ameliorate the fear and anxiety of immigrants, Singapore needs to address the adverse feeling of Singaporeans that may lead to segregation and avoidance of the immigrants. This attitude does not allow the immigrants to integrate or assimilate into Singapore’s way of life. The adverse feeling stems from the realistic group conflict as explained in earlier paragraphs.
On the competition for jobs, the government had explained that it should not be an issue that new immigrants and foreign talents come in and compete for jobs; Singaporeans must continually upgrade themselves in this era of the knowledge economy, equip themselves with new skills and insights to move up the value chain (DPM Wong, 2006). With a thriving economy, the government is in a good position to educate the citizenry on the contributions of talented immigrants who are helping to grow a bigger economic pie and make Singapore a livelier and more vibrant society.
A bigger economic pie will translate into having more opportunities for all. Most immigrants do not have had a similar harmonious multi-cultural experience in their countries of origin. They will need time to fully understand how the Singapore multi-cultural system works or integrate with the locals. The government have to constantly educate the people to be tolerant towards immigrants and make them feel welcome. This will help the immigrants to make adjustment to adapt to Singapore’s unique way of life and integrate into Singapore society.
Through the various public programmes, the government can create opportunities for interaction between the local and foreigners through use of common amenities, public school, systems, public housing system and national service for aspiring citizens. Initiatives to make the immigrants feel welcome including inviting immigrants receiving citizenship to join the mass National pledge-taking at the National Day Parade as was done in 2007. For a small nation like Singapore, attracting suitable immigrants is essential to ensure her continued economic growth.
Making up the numbers with the right immigrants to augment the population therefore takes on a greater meaning. New immigrants should possess a diversity of experiences, knowledge and skills to add to the vibrancy and energy of Singapore. Their skills and talents should help to boost the economy and develop Singapore’s sports and arts to a higher plane. Singapore recognises and must constantly remind their citizens that successful cities such as New York and London have all benefited from immigrant talents.
Singapore can and must continue to open her doors to those who bring their talents and skills and want to set up home in the nation. Unless Singaporeans are convinced of these foreigners’ contribution to Singapore’s economy, that also benefit Singaporeans, Singaporeans would not welcome them. Similarly, unless the immigrants feel welcome and appreciated, and experience positive interactions with the locals, they would not be too willing to settle down in Singapore. These lie the Singapore’s challenges.