SINGAPORE: In Parliament on Monday (Feb 27), Workers’ Party chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh advocated for an English test in evaluating an individual’s application for citizenship or permanent residency.
Mr Singh said this in the context of a proposed budget cut during the Committee of Supply debates for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Speaking on New Citizen Selection Criteria, he said, “the latest Singapore Census revealed that 48.3 per cent of the resident population in Singapore spoke English most frequently at home compared to 32.3 per cent a mere 10 years ago.
Is a working proficiency in English a criteria for citizenship for better integration between new citizens and Singaporeans of all races and religions since English is our main language of communication?”
He was answered by Ms Josephine Teo, the Second Minister for Home Affairs, who expressed doubts concerning the helpfulness of such a test since those with lower levels of competency in English are likely to be the wives of foreigners.
She said immigration might consider different markers of social integration, including completing National Service and the applicant’s family ties to Singapore, which are evaluated together with economic contributions, qualifications, and age.
“Certainly, on the ground, every day, we meet with residents who cannot speak a word of English. And I don’t think anyone has suggested they are any less integrated to Singapore society,” she added.
In his speech, the WP head underlined the country’s Total Fertility Rate being at a historical low of 1.05 and added that new citizens are a “critical pillar” to the country’s future.
“Singaporeans do not want new citizens who don’t want to live here but only want the power of the Singapore passport for their convenience, and a safe and secure environment for their assets and wealth,” he added.
Ms Teo said that she was surprised by Mr Singh’s position, adding, “The reason being that, firstly, one can imagine that for most applicants for permanent residency and citizenship – if they have been in Singapore for a number of years, particularly if they had worked here, a facility with English is not surprising and I would think that the test need not be applied.”
She also said that the detailed criteria and country-specific figures on Singapore’s PR and new citizens are not disclosed because this information may be “misinterpreted or misused by others to stir up bilateral and domestic sensitivities.”
Netizens commenting on a CNA report on the exchange between Mr Singh and Ms Teo favoured the WP head’s position.
Meanwhile, some criticized Ms Teo as “living in an ivory tower.”
There were a few, however, who tended to see her point.
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