While the Fraser Institute, a Canadian research group, rated Hong Kong first in the world for economic freedom, Singapore finished just behind in second place.114 The nation’s free market policies — including those that relate to immigration — have made it one of the world’s most successful economies.
Singapore’s unemployment rate has not exceeded 2.2 percent since 2010, an economic record most governments would envy. After more than 140 years as a British colony, in 1963 Singapore became part of newly formed Malaysia and established its own sovereign nation two years later in 1965. The percentage of foreign born in Singapore is 39 percent. A small island nation, Singapore is only about 3.5 times the size of Washington, D.C., and it is multiethnic, with Chinese the dominant ethnicity, followed by Malay, Indian and European.115
In an effort to maintain ethnic and political harmony, the country’s leadership has established certain rules on immigration. For example, rather than enact a series of bureaucratic rules, Singapore established a foreign worker levy as a “pricing mechanism to regulate the number of foreign workers in Singapore.”116 The levy varies by sector.117 Also, approval for permanent residence is much more discretionary in the hands of Singaporean immigration officials when compared to other countries. However, businesses and attorneys find transferring employees from abroad a smooth process with few denials.
In 2014, Singapore started requiring employers to use a Jobs Bank, an online jobs posting site, in conjunction with hiring foreign nationals. Employers, particularly small employers and those hiring highly skilled individuals, were given a number of exemptions from using the Jobs Bank. “Companies are still likely to get the person they want,” said Mark Chowdhry, managing associate at Magrath Global in Singapore.118
The free market tenor of Singapore’s economic policies leads observers to expect immigration policies in the country to remain pro-growth. “Even after the changes,” said Christina Karl, managing director of Asia, of Berry Appleman & Leiden, “Singapore will remain the easiest place in Asia to hire and retain skilled foreign workers."119
114. James Gwartney, Robert Lawson and Joshua Hall (2014), Economic Freedom of the World, 2014 Annual Report, Fraser Institute.
115. Central Intelligence Agency (2014), Singapore in The World Factbook.
116. Ministry of Manpower, Singapore government.
117. Ibid. As noted in the body of the report, for example, if foreign workers represent 25 to 50 percent of a manufacturing company’s workforce, then it would pay a monthly fee of 470 Singapore dollars (about $375) for every unskilled foreign worker it employed.
118. Interview with Mark Chowdhry.
119. Interview with Christina Karl.