More than 200,000 Singaporeans currently live and work overseas, up significantly from 10 years ago. Previously seen as a worrying trend for Singapore’s leaders, new initiatives have been launched to tap on their international exposure and draw them back home.
By Romesh Navaratnarajah
The number of Singaporeans looking for greener pastures abroad continues to rise, with 212,500 overseas Singaporeans as of June 2015, up 23 percent from 163,000 in 2005, according to a Population in Brief 2015 report published by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD).
A large majority of them went overseas to study and work, with the most popular destinations being Australia, the UK, the US and China. However, many Singaporeans living overseas have chosen not to return, raising concerns of a brain drain.
During his National Day Speech in 2002, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong controversially called young Singaporeans who chose to leave the country “quitters”.
Six years later, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that about a quarter of top A-level students who had gone overseas to study or work did not return.
Less stress, more success
34-year-old Chloe Lim left Singapore almost 14 years ago to further her studies in London. She told PropertyGuru that the stressful and highly competitive education system here was a push factor.
“I felt that I would be stigmatised for being a Normal Academic student, even though I eventually went to Victoria Junior College,” she said. Also, the curriculum available at the National University of Singapore (NUS) didn’t appeal to her.
Lim has no regrets about moving to the UK, a decision she believes has enriched her life. “There are beautiful museums, art galleries and theatres, and these places are easily accessible.
“I am also more independent and it has made me realise how easy Singaporeans have it, especially the younger generation. A lot of people have maids to cook for them, wash their clothes and cars, and look after their children.
“In the UK, you have to do things on your own, especially if you’re single, because most people do not live with their parents and they cannot afford to have domestic helpers.”
Lim currently works as a Senior Tax Adviser in PwC London, a job she finds very fulfilling as she’s surrounded by a diverse group of colleagues who are less judgemental and competitive.
“People here are generally less judgemental about your lifestyle choices. I find that when I go back to Singapore, relatives and even strangers judge me on how I look, my weight, marital status, and the fact that I cannot speak Mandarin well.”
She noted that employees in the UK are also given rights that Singaporean companies lack. “I feel that workers in Singapore are treated quite badly and there is no one to protect their rights, whereas in the UK, there is statutory legislation in place to ensure employees are not unfairly treated or dismissed.”
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