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.
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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.
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).
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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.