Our population of 5.61 million is made up of two main groups: residents and non-residents.
Within our total population, around 7 in 10 are residents – of which 6 are Singapore citizens and 1 is a PR. Simply put, residents are people who were born here or who are staying in Singapore for the longer term. They have a strong connection with Singapore – be it in terms of family ties or having lived and worked here for some time. These residents are looking to build a life here and to call Singapore home.
The remaining 3 in 10 of our population are non-residents – foreign nationals who are in Singapore for a certain period of time to live, work or study. Together, our residents and non-residents make up the colourful fabric of society, and contribute in their various ways to keep Singapore going strong.
Residents: Singapore citizens and PRs
Most Singapore citizens were born and grew up here. Take Mark, for instance. He speaks fluent Singlish, and can’t imagine life without his favourite chicken rice. His family has been in Singapore for generations, since his great-grandfather migrated to Singapore and started a rubber export business in the early 1900s, back when the island was still covered with rubber plantations.
Hassan, Mark’s best friend, is a naturalised or ‘new’ citizen, though in many ways, he is far from being new to our shores! Hassan was born and spent his early years overseas before his family relocated to Singapore when he was a child. Hassan’s mother is Singaporean, while his father came here first on an employment pass, and eventually becoming a Singapore Permanent Resident (PR).
Being a PR is a step towards citizenship and it is granted to those who have a long-term stake in Singapore with intent to sink roots here. Applications for PR are also comprehensively assessed by the authorities. While PRs are considered non-citizens, the group has a subset of the benefits given to citizens, such as lower stamp duty for housing and education subsidies. 2nd generation male PRs will also need to go through National Service (NS).
After more than a decade of working as an engineer in a rail company here, Hassan’s father successfully applied to become a Singapore citizen.
In order to become a citizen, applicants go through a stringent assessment process that looks at key factors including family ties to Singapore, contributions to the economy, and a sincere desire to sink roots here and make Singapore home.
As for Hassan, he first joined a primary school here, in the same class as Mark. They became fast friends playing soccer, and Hassan acquired a passion for hawker food, thanks to their regular makan sessions. Hassan went through NS, and when he reached 21 – the age for Singaporeans by descent to decide which citizenship to take up, he took the oath to confirm his Singapore citizenship, and stayed on in Singapore, his home.
Non-residents: Employment Pass, S Pass, Work Permit, Foreign Domestic Worker, Student’s Pass, Dependant’s Pass
The classification of non-residents is a little heavier on the jargon, but don’t worry; we will take you through one at a time!
Work Permit (WP)
In the course of a day, you are bound to come across a construction site, where workers are building on the scaffolding for a new building, or paving the way for a new road or MRT line.
These semi-skilled workers probably carry a work permit (WP), issued to employees in sectors such as construction, manufacturing, marine, process or selected services e.g. retail/F&B frontline. Jobs in these sectors are viewed as more labour-intensive and less popular with the residents. Yet, infrastructure has to be built, maintained and expanded. Local restaurants and shops require capable service staff to thrive. Manufacturing firms need nifty hands to do what machinery can’t. The WP scheme is hence designed to bring in foreign manpower to meet this need and to help to keep Singapore on track.
WP holders are the largest group – almost half of non-residents, and more than half of the foreign workforce.
Foreign Domestic Worker
After WP holders, Foreign Domestic Workers are the next largest group in our foreign workforce.
You may not know that by Singapore law, these workers must have at least eight years of education with a recognised certificate. There’s also an age limit: they have to be between 23 and 50 years old at the time of application.
Have you watched the award-winning film Ilo Ilo by Anthony Chen? Some of us have experienced the same tender care from a domestic helper. Our domestic helpers don’t just help to cook or clean – many of them play an important social role in Singapore families. This could be taking care of an elderly person, or babysitting the children when mum and dad are away at work.
Employment Pass (EP)
There are roughly the same number of Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass holders in Singapore – each group makes up around 1 in 10 of non-residents.
If a foreigner gets a job with a salary of at least $3,600 a month, he or she is eligible to apply for an Employment Pass to work in Singapore. This minimum salary benchmark increases with age – older workers are expected to meet a higher amount that reasonably matches their experience.
The EP applies to professionals, managers and executives who have relevant qualifications, bringing with them a wealth of experience and innovative ideas. They bring diversity to the workforce, and help to grow emerging sectors like aerospace engineering, fin-tech services, and research and development, allowing our country to remain globally competitive.
Contributions of individuals holding the S Pass in Singapore are similar to that of the Employment Pass, in the sense that they are both more skills-centered. Applicants need to earn at least $2,200 a month and the pass has to be renewed at least once every two years.
These employees add to the foreign worker quota of a company and their employers are required to fork out a levy. Many of the S Pass workers are in the healthcare and social services sectors. Some are also specialised technicians, and retail/F&B managers.
Around one fifth of our non-resident population is in Singapore for purposes other than work.
More than half of this group are Dependant Pass holders – family members of EP and S Pass holders. Provided that they draw at least $5,000 salary a month, EP and S Pass holders can make an application for their spouse and children to stay in Singapore as well. Dependant Pass holders can also work or study here, if they apply for the necessary permits.
The Dependant Pass allows a foreign family to stay together. This is good news for the family, but also for Singapore employers as it is more likely that foreign labour will be willing to come to Singapore, bringing with them skill-sets that supplement and build up areas where local expertise is currently lacking.
International students are drawn to Singapore’s quality education system. Young, bright and eager to learn, the Student Pass allows them to pursue full-time studies in Singapore. These international students also help to add diversity to our institutes of higher learning, providing a global world-class learning environment for our students. Having spent time in our schools and gotten used to life in Singapore, some international students also stay on in Singapore to work, under the Employment Pass or S Pass schemes.
Living together as one
In a nutshell, Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, traditions and lifestyles. Resident, non-resident, Work Permit holder, Employment Pass holder… while such classifications don’t matter much in our daily interactions, it helps with a better understanding and glimpse into the diverse groups that make up Singapore society.
Want to find out more about our population? Go to Population Trends for charts and quick summaries.