Pritam Singh & Josephine Teo Debate Over Future Citizens & En
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh advocated for the use of an English test in citizenship and Permanent Resident (PR) applications in Parliament on Monday (27 Feb).
He stated that the test would gauge how suitable a citizen or PR would be at integrating into Singapore.
In response, Second Minister for Home Affairs (MHA) Josephine Teo expressed her doubt on how such a test could help. She pointed out existence of other markers to assess social integration.
She also stated that one who has lived and especially worked in Singapore for a number of years, should have a working grasp of English.
Pritam Singh advocates for English test in new citizenship applications
On 27 Feb, Mr Singh indicated the importance of future citizens for Singapore.
He said that Singapore would want those who “truly know” the country and want to embrace its way of life.
Singaporeans, he added, would not want new citizens who don’t want to live in the country and only wish to enjoy the power of the passport for their convenience and a safe, secure environment for their assets and wealth.
He then referred to Switzerland, which has a rigorous selection process for new citizens. Applicants should show themselves to have “successfully integrated” into the country.
For ordinary naturalisation, they must have lived there for 10 years and hold a permanent residence permit. In addition, they must be able to answer questions on Swiss geography and history, among others.
Mr Sing proceeded to ask MHA if Singapore had similar requirements. He noted that 48.3% of Singapore’s residents spoke English most frequently at home, compared to 32.3% 10 years ago.
“Is a working proficiency in English a criteria for citizenship for better integration between new citizens and Singaporeans of all races and religions, since English is our main language of communication?” he asked.
Josephine Teo says tests can have pitfalls
Mrs Teo responded to Mr Singh, stating that authorities in Singapore also consider how well an applicant can integrate into Singapore.
However, she said they do not use a naturalisation test or interviews as “all tests have pitfalls”.
Sample questions on the Swiss naturalisation test can easily be found online. In addition, interviews are resource-intensive and uneven in quality if authorities conduct them at scale.
“Instead, we consider various markers of social integration such as family ties to Singaporeans, length of residency, whether the applicant studied in our national schools or completed National Service,” Mrs Teo said.
These areas come under assessment together with applicants’ economic contributions, qualifications and age.
Applicants must also complete the Singapore Citizenship Journey before authorities can grant them citizenship. This programme helps them better understand history and culture.
The programme was recently refreshed and enhanced with content co-created by Singaporeans, Mrs Teo said.
“These measures are by no means perfect, but they have served us well,” she noted.
Josephine Teo “surprised” at advocacy for English test in citizenship
Mrs Teo asked Mr Singh if he was advocating for an English test in new citizenship applications, to which he replied in the affirmative, stating:
I believe it would be helpful so I would advocate for it.
Mrs Teo then admitted to being “surprised” by his position.
She pointed out that most applicants, if they were in and have worked in Singapore for a number of years, would be versed in English.
In such cases, a test would be unnecessary.
She added that the government’s ground interactions revealed that those not unfamiliar with the language were likely spouses of citizens and other PRs who came from the same countries.
“Unless we’re saying that we, therefore, do not welcome such foreign spouses, I’m not sure to what extent a test of English that could be applied,” Mrs Teo said.
“Certainly, on the ground, every day, we meet with residents who cannot speak a word of English,” she went on to state. “And I don’t think anyone has suggested they are any less integrated to Singapore society.”
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Featured image adapted from MCI Singapore on YouTube.
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