The grass is greener

[01 Oct 2006]

The Singapore government is agonising over the increasing number of its citizens who are leaving the island state, often permanently. According to a recent Straits Times article, almost 150,000 Singapore citizens are now living outside of the country. With a population of around 4 million, that’s 3.75% who have chosen to take off, at least temporarily. Around 2,700 of them went to Australia in 2005-2006.

This is particularly troubling for Singapore, since it is one of the most rapidly greying societies in Asia. The number of babies born here has dropped from 53,000 in 1988 to just 36,000 in 2005. So the government is trying to figure ways to get the diaspora to return.

Let’s now turn to Australia. There are some interesting articles by Australia’s Dept of Immigration talking about the number of people leaving permanently. Summarising the table in the Fact Sheet, 2.5 million people emigrated to Australia from 1978 to 2004 and 780,000 permanently left, giving a net permanent gain of 1.76 million.

For the Australian-born who have left permanently, Singapore is the 4th most attractive country:

Overwhelmingly, the Australian-born are emigrating to the United Kingdom, New Zealand or the United States. In 2003-04, 55.1 per cent of Australian-born emigrants went to one of these three countries. The next most popular destinations were Singapore (5.8 per cent) and Hong Kong SAR (5.3 per cent).

There is also a lot of hand-wringing about the ‘brain drain’ from and to various countries. For example, it has often been assumed that emigration of the brightest from New Zealand to Australia has had a negative effect on the land of the kiwis, but according to the New Zealand Treasury (link no longer available), when all inflows are considered, it has been more of a neutral exchange rather than a brain drain.

So where do I fit into all this? I have now lived outside my home country (Australia) for 13 years (4 years in Japan and now 9 years in Singapore). Why? Because of the job opportunities, because it is very interesting living in Asia, because of the travel and because of the willingness of Asian countries to spend big on education.

Globalisation is going to mean more emigration − and hopefully a reduction in nationalistic barriers leading to a “global village” concept where there is better understanding between nations because of closer contact.

Well, we can hope…

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