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Singapore needs more foreign talent, but ‘social norms’ should be respected, outgoing PM Lee says

In the interview, he said that managing the “inherent tensions” between wanting social cohesion and bringing in immigrants is the “most difficult” issue he has had to deal with.

“Making people feel comfortable and not feel threatened or having social tensions build up, that is something which is going to be very difficult to manage because we do not have a lot of manoeuvring room on the downside.

“You cannot say I send off all the foreign workers, and then tomorrow we will be OK.”

Singapore needs talent to stand out in the world, he said. “And you can never have enough talent.”

While the prime minister acknowledged that Singaporeans have reasonable concerns over the social impact of the new arrivals, he pointed out that there are jobs – such as in construction – that Singaporeans do not want.

Singapore’s reliance on foreign workers in the construction sector came into the spotlight at the height of the pandemic, when a manpower crunch caused by border restrictions and Covid-19 quarantines led to delays for many housing projects.

In other sectors, more manpower is needed to perform the tasks on a larger scale – beyond the jobs that Singaporeans can fill, Lee said.

“And if I can have 10 per cent or 20 per cent more engineers or technicians or healthcare workers, I can do a lot more things, I will be more productive. But I cannot take away 10 per cent of people then become 10 per cent smarter and faster just on my own.”

On the concerns that people have about foreigners – such as dilution, values and social impact – the government has to “feel our way forward and go as far as politically can be supported”.

In Singapore, the city is the country – unlike other major cities such as London. So, there must be cohesion and a strong sense