About 64,000 naturalised citizens between 2000 and 2010


About 64,000 persons became naturalised Singapore citizens in the decade between 2000 and 2010, my calculations show. About 50,000 of them would have been be old enough to vote in the 2011 general election, making up about 2.3 percent of the 2,211,102 registered electors in that year. Some readers may consider 64,000 an alarming figure, others would more likely say this is quite ordinary for a city-state that has always been open to migration. There will even be some who, objecting to the high influx of foreigners, consider my estimate unbelievably low.

Certainly, the government considers this a very sensitive piece of information seeing how they steadfastly do not release the numbers. I had to sleuth through the census figures of 2000 and 2010 to make this estimate. 

The point of this article is not to make a value judgement about whether this is a high or low rate, but to try to put into the public debate a figure that is defensible from the available statistics. The bulk of this article will thus get deep into the numbers.

* * * * *

Before we go further, it is important to put this discussion in some perspective. Firstly, we are discussing citizens, not total population. Citizens make up about 61 percent of the total population on this island, as you can see from this table below.


It was a pain constructing even this simple table. There is no single department providing all the above numbers; I had to extract bits and pieces from the websites of the Department of Statistics, the National Population and Talent Department and the Ministry of Manpower. But each side gives slightly different numbers; they do not reconcile with precision! So the above is my best interpolation of the numbers as at June 2014. I’d say my numbers are accurate to within 5,000 persons or 0.1 percent.

Secondly, this discussion is about the situation as at 2010, not the current year 2014. The reason is that I am working from census data, and Singapore’s last census was 2010. Whether naturalisation has accelerated or decelerated since 2010, I don’t know.

Numbers, numbers and more numbers

Now, we’ll go into the numbers behind my estimate of 64,000 naturalised citizens between 2000 and 2010.

Table 1 gives you the number of citizens from the census of year 2000, split by race and age bands, as provided by the Department of Statistics:


Table 2 gives you the equivalent data from the census ten years later, in 2010:


Those who had been in the age band 0 – 4 years in the 2000 census would have been in the age band 10 – 14 years in the 2010 census. The same age-shifting would have occurred for all age bands. If we had no deaths, no emigration and no immigration, there would be exactly the same number of people in the “10-14 years old” age band of 2010 as there were in the “0 – 4 years old” age band of 2000.

But they are not identical numbers ten years later. If we compare the numbers between the two censuses and obtain a difference in each cell,  we get Table 3:


Take a little while to examine Table 3 in detail. The pattern in the numbers jumps up at you.

1.  If you look at the right-side column “Total”, you’d see that up to about age 50, there are more people in the age bands in the year 2010 than there were in the matching age bands of census 2000. These extra persons were not present in the count of citizens in year 2000.

2.  The ‘net gain’ however is not evenly distributed over the races. The Malays had a net loss in nearly every age band below 50.

3.  Older then age 50, there is net loss in almost every cell.

The compelling conclusions are these:

4.  There is probably no naturalisation of Malay new citizens. The net losses from the Malay population in virtually every age band is probably due to death and emigration with no counter-balancing naturalisation.

5.  There is probably no (or minimal) naturalisation of persons over age 50. The net losses from all racial groups in age bands older than 50 is almost surely due to death and emigration.

6.  The tricky part has to do with the numbers of Chinese, Indians and Others under age 50. Their net gains are shown in the bottom row “Net change in age bands 10 – 50 years”, but this figure cannot be treated as due to naturalisation alone. This figure is net of death and emigration among Chinese, Indians and Others. Surely, some Chinese, Indians and Others who had been in Singapore in year 2000 would have died or emigrated too.

It will be an enormously difficult task trying to obtain deaths and emigration statistics. The government is just as reluctant to disclose emigration statistics as immigration, especially by race.

Hence, I have to make an assumption — that the rates of death and emigration for the other race groups are the same as the rates seen among the Malays.


Table 4 computes the net loss in percentage terms for each age band of Malays over the ten-year period. I then applied the same loss rate to the other racial groups, adjusting the data from the 2000 census (age-shifted by 10 years) accordingly. Thus Table 5 shows the numbers of persons in 2010 who were also present for the 2000 census. For convenience, I call this the ‘native’ population — that is those who were already citizens in 2000.

(I may be wrong, but I somehow have the view that naturalisation did not occur in large numbers prior to 2000, so ‘native’ could more or less mean ‘native-born’.)



We can now calculate the net gain in the 2010 census against the native population from 2000 for each matching age band.


Since we had made a discount to represent death and emigration among the Chinese, Indians and Others, this net gain is indicative of the numbers who were naturalised in this ten-year period. By fluke, we have a very round number — 64,000 — at the bottom right corner.

Permanent Residents

What about permanent residents? They’re outside the scope of this discussion, and it is much harder to plumb the census data for any estimate. Certainly, their numbers are much bigger than those of new citizens, yet they also enjoy the right to buy public housing and access to other benefits. As often erupts into the media, they participate somewhat in the political process through “volunteering” for local organising.

There is a report in today’s Straits Times saying we grant Permanent Residency to about 30,000 people a year:

Separately, the [Immigration and Customs Authority] revealed that in the past three years, it has processed an average of 93,000 PR applications a year. It is understood that it conducts face-to- face interviews, document checks and background screening. An average of 30,000 applications were approved each year.

— Straits Times, 4 October 2014, Ex-tour guide’s employment pass, company under probe

Is 30,000 new PRs a year a historically high or low figure?

The census data from 2000 shows there were 287,447 Permanent Residents that year, nearly doubling to 541, 002 in the 2010 census. This suggests that we had a net addition of 25,000 PRs per year through that decade. Again, this is a net figure. Some converted to citizenship, some would have surrendered their PR status and left Singapore and a few would have died. From the above calculations, we know that about 6,400 a year converted to citizenship, but I have no clue how many surrendered their PR status each year.

But it does suggest that in the decade 2000 to 2010 we were giving out a bit more than 30,000 PRs a year — maybe as many as 35,000 a year (since 25,000 net gain of PRs a year + 6,400 new citizens = 31,400).  So it’s probably safe to say that there’s been a slight reduction in the annual intake of Permanent Residents since 2010 (or more likely, since the 2011 general election when excessive immigration became an issue).

* * * * *

Here’s the funny thing:  Despite giving out 93,000 PRs in the last three years, there has been no net increase of PRs in our total population since 2010. As you can see from the blue table at the top of this article, there were 527 thousand PRs in June 2014, a shade fewer than the 541 thousand in the census four years earlier. Have many left Singapore?  Have they largely been converted to citizens?

In other words, has the rate of naturalisation increased or decreased since 2010?  Given the fact that population figures are given in 5-year blocks, it may be better to wait till next year (2015) before I attempt a new estimate. It’ll be too messy to try to do it with 2014 figures.


10 Responses to “About 64,000 naturalised citizens between 2000 and 2010”

  1. 1 yawningbread 4 October 2014 at 18:42

    This Yahoo News story, dated 28 Feb 2012, is also relevant:

    Around 900 Singapore born citizens and 300 naturalised citizens give up their citizenship yearly, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
    Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Teo said that renunciation rates for both citizens born in Singapore and foreigners who take up citizenship were “low” at 0.1 per cent or less, reported Channel NewsAsia (CNA)
    According to CNA, the given renunciation rates were for the years between 2007 and 2011.

    The above figures (900+300 giving up their citizenship annually) cannot be overlaid on my article, because giving up citizenship is quite different from emigrating.

  2. 2 ATH 4 October 2014 at 19:46

    Just based on eye observation if you work in the CBD area and also in your HDB neighbourhood for the period from 2000 to 2010, you can somehow estimate that the Indian & Chinese population has increased due to the high number of PRs given and also a stark reminder that the Malay population has seen no dramatic changes. But by just how much, I had no idea.
    I wonder how large is the PR population of Filipinos at the moment? Becos just based again on eye observation it definitely has seen a staggering increase either based on PR, employment or work permits.

  3. 3 Daniel 4 October 2014 at 23:28

    Is there a reason why we source new “Chinese” and “Indian” immigrants from the North of these countries, when our local populations came from the Southern regions? Would’t integration be easier if the new Chinese were Hokkien and the new Indians were Tamil (instead of Shanghinese or Bihari)? This is slightly tangential to the issue of immigration numbers in general, but I think is still pertinent.

    I have heard of a conspiracy theory that the reason behind this was out of fear that if they recruited from the same villages as our ancestors, we’d be pulling our entire extended families (cousins, aunts, granduncles young and old) over, and lobbying harder for their conversion to citizens.

    In other words, new immigrants who have no roots here are more isolated and the authorities can afford to be strict (only taking nuclear families, rejecting siblings, excluding grandparents etc) without fear of being lobbied by some Singaporean through his MP to make exceptions. They can also more easily be sent back should they prove unsuitable.

  4. 4 yuen 5 October 2014 at 00:35

    the loss of PR arises from citizen conversion, emigration and death, the PR-to-citizen conversions between 2010 and 2013 might be around 1/3 of the 64K you estimate or 20K, probably another20K died during the period; in other words, the total loss of PRs in 3 years through emigration might be around 50K; while some would have gone to the west, most of those leaving are likely to have returned to their original countries

  5. 5 Jun Kai 5 October 2014 at 03:22

    According to the Population White Paper – the plan is to maintain (i.e. keep constant) the number of PRs by taking in 30,000 new PRs a year. So I think you can keep PRs out of the picture to simplify things. As for new citizens – the plan is 15000-25000 new citizens each year. 64,000 over 10 years is way too little, or am I missing something here? *comprehension level is down at 3am lol*

  6. 6 stngiam 5 October 2014 at 10:34

    Teo Chee Hean replied to a PQ on this:


    18,500 citizenships granted each year in the five years preceding 2012. Just looking at 2007-2010, we get 74,000 but then census figures are as 30 June whereas TCH’s figures are presumably on calendar year basis, so if we exclude immigration in the second half of 2010, we get a figure amazingly close to your estimate of 64,000 !

    Then the question becomes how many citizenships were granted between 2000 and 2006 ? Surely not zero, but probably low, because of the weak economic conditions in the first half of the decade. Also, your methodology is for nett immigration, so the number of emigrants over 10 years might offset the number of immigrants in the first six years. In other words, quite a robust estimate, but probably on the low side.

    • 7 yawningbread 5 October 2014 at 10:55

      Thanks for unearthing this. To help readers, let me quote in full Teo Chee Hean’s reply in the parliamentary sitting of 10 Sept 2012 that you cited:

      33 Ms Tan Su Shan asked the Prime Minister with the tightening in the grant of permanent residence and Singapore citizenship since 2008, what is the quantitative trend going forward and whether the same levels of decline can be expected as have been witnessed in the last three years.
      Mr Teo Chee Hean (for the Prime Minister): Since the tightening of our immigration framework in late 2009, the number of new permanent residents (PRs) has decreased from an average of 58,000 per year from 2004 to 2008, to 28,500 per year from 2010 onwards. The number of new Singapore citizens (SCs) has remained relatively stable at an average of 18,500 per year in the last five years. Fewer SCs were granted last year because of the introduction of the Singapore Citizenship Journey, which has lengthened the time taken for applicants to be granted citizenship by about two months.
      The number of PRs and SCs granted in any given year depends on a combination of factors, including the number of applications received as well as the calibre and profile of applicants, such as their economic contributions, age, family profile and length of stay in Singapore. These are factors which are considered under the Government’s immigration framework, to holistically assess applicants’ ability to contribute, integrate well into society and their commitment to sinking roots.
      We will continue to calibrate the immigration framework to address our population challenges and constraints. As part of the ongoing review and public engagement on population issues, we are reviewing the number of immigrants Singapore takes in.

      It appears that he was referring to the full calender years 2007 to 2011 (“last five years”), and as Ngiam said, pro-rating it for the 3.5 years to the 2010 Census (June 2010) indicates that about 65,000 new citizens were taken in between Jan 2007 and June 2010. To cohere with my estimate, this suggests that between 2000 and end-2006, hardly any new citizens were taken in. This is not credible in my view. There may be far fewer in those years, but not close to nil. This means that my figures are an underestimate.

      Yet, my numbers are grounded in the census data. How to explain the discrepancy? Off hand I can think of two possibilities:

      1. Re-emigration by new citizens is much higher than I assumed; perhaps as many as two in three new citizens re-emigrated.
      2. Emigration by native citizens of Chinese/Indian/Other ancestry is much higher than emigration rates indicated by Malay figures. You may recall that in my calculations, I simply used the Malay death-and-emigration rate to adjust the native Chinese/Indian/Other population downwards. Perhaps these native citizens are leaving Singapore way faster than we think, such that it needed 18,500 new citizens a year to make even a small increase in population?

      • 8 Sgcynic 5 October 2014 at 16:57

        If Singaporeans are finding it hard to cope, what about new immigrants, the bulk of whom are probably not from the higher echelons of their own countries? Even if they are, they definitely can do their sums comparing the costs of living in Singapore vs “home” or greener pasture. This would explain why reemigration may be much higher.

      • 9 yuen 6 October 2014 at 00:22

        “asset rich, cash poor” is a common situation here, and there is financial sense in selling out and moving to a country with much lower asset prices, enjoying the resulting surplus cash; while emigration to a new country might involve lengthy government procedure, returning to one’s country of origin is usually much simpler

  7. 10 The Critical Citizen 13 November 2014 at 23:22

    If the PAP thinks giving citizenships to foreigners like candy will turn them into a diehard PAP votebank, they are in for a very rude shock. They are aren’t stupid enough not to see the harsh socioeconomic realities that the true blues experience also affects them…and the PAP will not bat an eyelid to put them on the chopping block like the naturalborns when push comes to shove.

    Besides, those PAP elite FTs wouldn’t want the Pink IC anyway.

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