The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

The Office Snitch: Is Singapore better off without expats?

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I had drinks with a friend last week who had recently moved from London to take on a role in Singapore. Then yesterday, I had lunch with an Australian who has been living here for five years, and as I’m typing this out, I’m sorting plans to have lunch with a fellow Brit journo later.

It could be that my social and professional circles just happen to involve more foreigners, but there seems to have been an increase in the number of international talent heading into our sunny city-state.

I get why some Singaporeans are getting worked up about having more and more foreign talent in the country, but I can’t say I’m on the same train of thought.

In August, during his National Day rally, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singaporeans have to be more tolerant of expats.

“I think it’s fair enough to express concern, or to disagree with our immigration trends, or to oppose our immigration policies,” Lee said.

“But I am worried by some of the nasty views which are expressed, especially online, and especially anonymously. Such outbursts by citizens against foreigners, on the Internet and in public, reflect badly on us [and] damage our international reputation – people think that Singapore is anti-foreigner [and] xenophobic.”

I believe, hand on heart, that Singapore has so much to gain from having people from all across the globe live here.

Here’s some fun Sabrina trivia: I hate travelling. I love seeing new places and meeting new people and eating bugs off a food trolley in Bangkok, but I hate having to physically move from one place to another. Airports and I are not friends. (N.B.: Seriously, we can put a man on the moon and invent the iPhone 5, but we can’t figure out teleportation?)

So having the world come to me with tales of their small fishing hometown around the British Isles or the experience of working on the factory floor in a remote outskirt Chinese factory, is a major plus in my books.

Above and beyond that, imagine just how much richer Singapore is with this influx of culture and experience.

Yes, there is a risk that someone who isn’t local gets your promotion. Yes, there is the off chance that people might hire the Indian who has worked for five years at Hyderabad, rather than a fresh IT grad eager for experience.

But here’s my argument. It isn’t the expats we should be upset with. It’s the employers.

Companies have to push to keep locals at the core of the workforce, while there have been many commendable efforts by various parties to focus on that, more can always be done.

For our October issue, I had the chance to spend half a day with Pete Elroy, VP of HR for UPS APAC, and while he admitted UPS started its presence in Asia with Americans heading up the teams, he is happy to report many of those roles have been taken over by Asians.

“People aren’t just looking and seeing that our senior management are Asian, but they’re looking and thinking, ‘I can be in that position’,” he said.

We have to face the fact that Singapore isn’t a very big country and people are our only natural resources. Haven’t we always sold ourselves as a melting pot of colours, flavours and accents?

Sab trivia number two: I’m on a detox/get fit regime, and a friend who is supposed trying to help me stay on track (all he’s really done is confiscated my sugary snacks – I guess that’s a start) said: “Sabrina, with the exception of sugar, you can eat anything you want during this diet. Just make sure it’s in moderation.”

Not only is it great advice for a diet, but it can also be applied when dealing with this expat influx situation. The government’s measures of managing the number of expats coming in are great, but like all things yin-and-yang, a nice balance is always welcomed.

I think I might see if my Brit journo friend would like to have some sushi for lunch. Oh, isn’t that the greatest thing about having the world in one city – the food? I am such a Singaporean.

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Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

October 12, 2012 at 10:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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