Sunday 28 October 2012

Sharp drop in S'poreans becoming Aussie PRs

Better opportunities in S'pore, rising Aussie dollar among reasons cited
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

OF THE 192 "high-value occupations" publicised by the Australian immigration department, Mr Jake Teo, 25, would have easily qualified for as many as five.

The Singaporean holds a degree in electrical and aerospace engineering, and would have been a shoo-in under a permanent residence regime favouring those with special skills.

But he chose to return to Singapore after graduating from the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, last year.

"In my youth, I want to 'piah' and challenge myself," he said, using the Hokkien word that means to strive. "And the Singapore economy looks much more promising than Australia's."

More Singaporeans studying in Australia seem to be thinking along the same lines.

New permanent residents (PRs) from Singapore rose steadily to a high of 4,087 in 2005, then plunged to 1,823 last year, Australian government statistics show.

The 55 per cent drop in six years also coincides with a rise in new PRs from Malaysia, China and India.

The Australian immigration department told The Straits Times this week that PR applications from Singaporeans are drying up. They have fallen every year since peaking in 2005.

Experts, and Singaporeans who live or have lived in Australia, attribute it to improved opportunities in Singapore, a rising Australian dollar and better outreach by the Singapore Government.

Professor Terence Lee of Murdoch University said Singaporeans abroad increasingly see the Singapore economy as an exciting one, especially given the added buzz from the Marina Bay skyline.

"A fresh graduate now has a far higher chance of securing a job in Singapore in his preferred area and with the right wages," said Prof Lee, who has studied Singaporeans emigrating to Australia.

In contrast, Australia, while not doing badly overall, is bifurcating into a two-speed economy.

"The economy is driven by mining. There are spillovers to the industries that Singaporeans are interested in, but not much," said Ms Lee Yee Ling, Contact Singapore's area director for Australia.

Fresh graduates are also returning because of new flourishing sectors such as the life sciences and interactive and digital media.

Some came to know of jobs and internships in Singapore through Contact Singapore's career fairs.

The government agency tasked with linking Singaporeans abroad to opportunities at home has organised such fairs for the last three years in major Australian cities, with up to 300 students and professionals attending each year.

"We feel like the Government is taking note of us. It's nice," said Australian National University student Jamie Wong, 23.

Another factor is the currency swing. The Australian dollar, on a par with the Singapore dollar in 2002, has risen to S$1.26.

This affects working or retiring Singaporeans looking to move to Australia, said Dr Ian Austin of Edith Cowan University, who edited the book Australia-Singapore Relations: Successful Bilateral Relations In A Historical And Contemporary Context.

Also, cash-rich buyers from China have pushed up property prices in the big cities, he added.

Still, the community of 50,000 Singaporeans in Australia is bigger than those in other countries, making up one in four of all overseas Singaporeans.

Singaporeans like Australia for its proximity and slower pace of life. "People here also do not judge you based on material wealth or education. You are just an equal," said accountant Gladys Oh, 30, a PR who has been living in Canberra since 2001.

Indeed, students like Ms Grace Lim, 25, who studied at La Trobe University, say most of their peers admired the lifestyle there, but more than two-thirds returned, for various reasons.

"For me, it was to be with my family, especially my grandmother," said the events executive.

But there has been disquiet among Asians in recent years over racism and subtler forms of discrimination.

Mr Teo, who got a job as a workshops executive with SIA Engineering shortly after returning, said he was concerned about a cultural gap or a glass ceiling for minorities. "I'm much more comfortable in Singapore, which is my home," he said.

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