Displacing expatriates for locals may result in erosion of economic competitiveness

Year: 2020

Singapore is currently undergoing its worst recession since independence; many expatriates are finding their jobs threatened as hiring policies shift towards a ‘Singaporeans First’ approach. FMG CEO Devadas offers a layered perspective on the situation, raising concerns for Singapore’s future and reputation:

“FMG’s official position on the matter of displacing expatriate talent through policy action to tip hiring in favour of locals is nuanced. First, it is important to understand that if Singapore aims for long term economic success it must compete globally, something it cannot do with a small and ageing population and if it adopts protectionist labour policies. Second, it is necessary to distinguish between skilled and unskilled expats. While there is some justification to substituting a percentage of skilled expats with equally skilled locals, no or few Singaporeans are willing to substitute for foreign unskilled workers. So the premise for displacing each category cannot be the same. With regard to foreign unskilled workers it can be more clearly justified by economic contraction. But with respect to skilled expats a blunt and knee-jerk protectionist policy undercuts competitiveness which makes local workers better but smacks of populism. The concern is the longer term effects on the perception that Singapore is going from being long sighted, confident and rational to short sighted, insecure and populist. The short term political benefits of blunt protectionist policies may result in long term erosion of economic competitiveness, leading to even more future job losses