Coronavirus: uncertain future for 1.7 million foreigners in Singapore

Due to the crisis, many expats have lost their jobs or had to accept wage cuts. The city-state risks losing 200,000 jobs, 60 per cent of which will affect foreign workers. Unemployment benefits and income subsidies are only for Singaporean citizens and permanent residents. Without work, low-income migrants cannot pay the debts they incurred with their recruiting agencies.


Singapore (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The future for foreigners living in Singapore looks bleak. The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus has hit them hard. Some have lost their jobs, whilst others have had to accept wage cuts.

Given the cost of living in the city-state, where rents are very high, many of them are contemplating going home to their countries of origin.

As a result of the recessive effects of the pandemic, the government expects the country’s GDP to shrink by 4 to 7 per cent this year.

In terms of employment, Singapore is in danger of losing 200,000 jobs. By comparison, the 2008-2009 subprime mortgage crisis in the United States saw the loss 40,000 jobs.

According to economist Lee Ju Ye, cited in the South China Morning Post, expatriates are expected to bear the brunt with 60 per cent of jobs lost.

In Singapore, out of a population of 5.7 million, 1.7 million are foreigners, one million of whom are low-paid migrant workers.

The percentage of foreign workers in Singapore’s total labour force rose from 3 per cent in the 1970s to 38 per cent today, this according to the Migration Policy Institute, a US-based think tank.

In view of the ongoing economic crisis, the Singapore government will give priority to its own citizens. So far, Singaporean authorities have implemented aid measures worth US.4 billion, almost a fifth of the country’s GDP.

The aid programme includes unemployment benefits and wage subsidies, but only for citizens and permanent residents. Thus, migrant workers are the most at risk in the recession.

Meanwhile, Singapore has reported so far 39,850 COVID-19 cases with 25 deaths. About 90 per cent of them occurred in dormitories housing around 300,000 low-income migrants, mainly from Bangladesh, China and India.

In early June, the government eased social confinement measures, but many migrants are still confined to their quarters under quarantine. Without work, they cannot pay the debts they incurred in order to come to Singapore.

According to Reuters, migrants are usually charged between US$ 7,000 to US$ 10,000 in fees by recruitment agencies in their home country.