The Causes of Emigration from Singapore: How Much Is Still Political?

Joel S. Fetzer, Pepperdine University
Brandon Alexander Millan


Efforts to maintain a robust Singaporean economy have had to confront the serious challenge of substantial brain drain from the city-state. To address the negative effects of this problem, Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has adopted a policy of increasing reliance on a foreign labor force. Meanwhile, the PAP appears to ignore the continued loss of human and intellectual capital. This study examines the main determinants of emigration from Singapore, specifically the political factors. The analysis is based on two primary data surveys that investigated what Singaporeans think about emigration: the 2006 Asian Barometer and the 2000–2002 Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia. Contrary to some previous empirical literature, data from these surveys indicate that anti–PAP and pro-democratic ideas strongly influence the decision of native Singaporeans to leave the island state. These findings likewise suggest that democratization and an expansion of business and technical education would be more effective in preserving economic growth than a policy of importing labor in the face of popular xenophobia.