For decades this city-state was known as one of the world’s most driven economies. But as Singapore recovers from recession, its residents are questioning a key part of the country’s economic model: its long-standing openness to foreigners as well as a labor force that is not always legal.
Singapore has thrown open its doors to bankers and expatriates in recent years, making it easy in many cases to establish residency and hastening the country’s emergence as an Asian version of Dubai. It also welcomed low-skilled laborers from Bangladesh and other developing countries to help man construction sites and factories.
The goal was to capture more Asian wealth and offset Singapore’s low birth rate with immigrants, spurring economic growth. But the push has also fueled discontent, turning immigration into a red-hot political issue in a country where dissent is still tightly controlled by the government.
Between 2005 and 2009, Singapore’s population surged by roughly 150,000 people a year to 5 million—among the fastest rates ever there—with 75% or more of the increase coming from foreigners. In-migration continued in 2009 despite expectations it would collapse because of the global recession.