Wednesday, September 22, 2004

We, the Immobile.

It was Carl Gustav Jacobi, the famous German mathematician who recommended "you must always invert" to students as a technique for problem solving.

Taking his advice, let us ask the question: Why do Singaporeans not emigrate?

In addressing this problem we need to distinguish between desire to emigrate versus ability to emigrate.

Obviously those who have no desire to leave this place are not going to emigrate regardless of their ability for migration. These would be the folks that derogatively get referred to as "taking the blue pill". imho, they are the lucky ones who enjoy their lives here and are contented and even happy to live in Singapore. Either that or they have never ever considered an alternative to life in Singapore, no matter how loud the grousing about life in Singapore.

Either way I envy them for having a place they can call "home". These lucky folks probably constitute the majority of the population. For them emigration is somebody else's problem. Something that is totally alien to them.

Then there are those of us who have been cursed with the temptation of the possiblities of a better life beyond this tiny 650-or-so square kilometres. Some of us have travelled and have seen other options. Some of us may have been educated overseas. And some of us may even have relatives and family who have already emigrated.

However most countries are rather particular about who they will hand out PRs to. Unlike Singapore which hands out PRs like free candy in the effort to rapidly increase the numbers of the young and delay greying of the population.

So unless you are relatively young under 45 and healthy, and highly educated with desired skills, have immediate family there, have studied there, have a job offer in the country, or are extremely wealthy - the chances are low. The criteria to get PR/citizenship for desirable migration destinations is generally pretty stringent. Which makes perfect sense if your strategy is to pick the members who can most likely contribute to your economy.

So the harsh truth is that if you randomly sample Singaporeans off the street, the odds are that most will not qualify for PR / citizenship in another country. This especially applies for the first world destinations like USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

Which brings us to the other strategy proposed by some retirees I spoke to. Live in another country on social visit or retirement visas. Specifically to a country with a lower cost of living in order to stretch the retirement dollar.

This however seriously blunts the benefits of emigration, imho. You will be unable to access the subsidised benefits enjoyed by the citizens like healthcare and education. Nor will you be entitled to a passport, hence offering freedom of travel. Nor will you be able to actively participate in the civil society of the country.

I therefore propose the unpopular argument that most Singaporeans who desire a life outside Singapore do not migrate simply because they are unable to qualify for a PR (and the associated benefits) with the destination countries of their choice.

Looks like Angell was right again.


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