Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 36, September 2014

Troublesome Women and the Nanny State:
Drawing Boundaries and Legislating Bifurcated Belonging in Patriarchal Singapore

Eugene K.B. Tan

    If this is a nanny state, I am proud to have fostered one.[1]
    Lee Kuan Yew

  1. Singapore was and remains an immigrant society. The immigration of new citizens and temporary workers has become the primary means by which the population is replenished and right-sized for its economic and demographic requirements. More than one in three persons (or 38.6 percent) living in Singapore are foreigners (non-citizens, including permanent residents) in 2013.[2] Of the 3.45 million working population in Singapore, about 38 percent (or about 1,296,800 persons are foreigners.[3] The vast majority of these foreigners are transient workers (migrant workers) on short-term work permits. Of these, about 211,000—all women—are employed as domestic help (or ‘maids’ in local parlance) as of June 2013.
  2. Singapore is also severely under-reproducing. In 2010, Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.15 (1.15 babies per resident woman), among the lowest in the world.[4] In 2012, Singapore’s TFR was 1.29. However, the low TFR is not a recent phenomenon and is likely to persist. It has been below the replacement level of 2.1 since 1976. Hence, from the policy-makers’ perspective, there is a pressing need to top up Singapore’s population, and to import foreign labour power at all levels to meet Singapore’s economic needs.[5] At the same time, the Singapore government is selective in admitting permanent residents and naturalised citizens.[6]
  3. Not surprisingly, concerns have been raised over the relatively high proportion of foreigners in Singapore.[7] This dependence on foreign labour, whether high-skilled or low-skilled, has been an abiding feature of Singapore’s economic life.[8] Singapore’s political leadership has urged Singaporeans to accept the 'trade-offs' of an economy heavily dependent on foreign labour to feed its appetite for strong economic growth rates. As the then National Development Minister said in 2008, 'If we want fewer foreign workers, we must be prepared for slower growth, higher costs, lower service levels and delays in the completion of our flats, our roads, our rail lines.'[9] Narayanan Ganesan succinctly observes of migrant workers and professionals in Singapore's political economy:

      Their presence allays fears regarding the long-term sustainability of the country, sustains high economic growth levels, and lowers the cost of social reproduction. Additionally, migrants from Asia are comfortable with the status quo in Singapore and less likely than citizens to challenge the tone and temper of the domestic political culture.[10]

  4. In this article, I describe how government policies, societal norms, and laws towards migration of women out of and into Singapore impinge upon the normative conception of Singapore as a patriarchal state. This patriarchal normativity sits uncomfortably with the constitutional requirement of equality of persons (not limited to citizens only), of equality before the law, and entitlement to the equal protection of the law.[11] While it aspires to be a global city like New York and London, Singapore—as a nation-state—has to be simultaneously watchful of the realities and imperatives of being a sovereign nation-state. In short, Singapore's global city aspirations are reflexively in tension with and have to be in sync with Singapore's nation-building requirements. This tension invariably constrains the full expression of patriarchy as a mode of managing social, economic and political dynamics to maintain gender relations at the workplace, and home, and society.
  5. A global city has to be open to the inflows and outflows of people, ideas and financial capital. A nation-state, on the other hand, seeks to regulate those movements in the interest of moulding a national identity and the pursuit of desired societal values. This often entails a relatively less liberal citizenship regime with onerous requirements for citizenship and permanent residence. But like many industrialised economies, Singapore is experiencing a rise in international marriages, a disconcertingly low birth rate, the challenges of migration—including the immigration of foreign transient workers and professionals—as well as the growth of a significant overseas Singaporean community. Consequently, the citizenship regime in Singapore has to strategically adapt in order to bolster socio-political policy imperatives as well as to engender economic development. The imperative for Singapore to be intrinsically global (in terms of its people thinking and operating beyond Singapore's borders) and outwardly global (so that Singapore remains attractive to talented foreigners) generates a new set of political, socio-economic and cultural dynamics that challenge the status quo.
  6. I argue that due to the pragmatic considerations of demography and economics, and the patriarchal style of political governance, the law and policy regime has viewed and continues to view, to varying degrees, women migrants as troublesome. In particular, it considers how the immigration regulatory framework has differentially managed two categories of women: Singaporean women in international marriages, and foreign women working and living in Singapore as transient workers, especially as domestic workers. Both groups of women have foreign and local elements. The former used to have an inchoate existence within the Singaporean body polity while the latter has been regarded as a necessary evil, consigned to a tightly regulated, transient existence in Singapore with little or no possibility of being included into the Singaporean body polity.
  7. I contend that even with a more liberal attitude towards core issues such as citizenship, ethnic identities, and gender equality, the statist imperatives vis-à-vis the family, citizenship and foreign labour will persist and buttress the continued institutional influence, if not control, by the state over how Singapore society defines itself in these terms. Consequently, a bifurcated regime results, giving differentiated rights to Singaporean women in international marriages and foreign domestic workers in Singapore. This bifurcated treatment has a dual intent. The first intent is to enhance the connectedness and belonging of Singaporean women in international marriages to Singapore. The second intent is to ensure that foreign domestic workers have only a transient presence in Singapore and are excluded from having any connective ties and belonging to Singapore once their employment sojourn ends. This pre-empts their presence in Singapore from becoming a site for contestation over rights, privileges and belonging.
  8. Central to this narrative of belonging or a lack thereof, is the concept of citizenship. In Singapore, the citizenship concept is undergirded by a policy and ideological framework that invariably places a premium on one's ability to contribute to societal well-being, measured in pragmatic dimensions of economic worth and demographic relevance. Equality of treatment is not a core concern. Indeed, the bifurcated regime that has developed around the abovementioned two categories of women highlights that the process and outcome in defining who belongs is not characterised by rights, but by the patriarchal tendency to conform to and support the communitarian interests of Singapore society.
  9. I begin by setting the context with a brief discussion on the institutional importance of the family in Singapore in an evolving landscape buffeted by globalisation mores, demographic realities and changing social norms. I then consider the first group of women, Singaporean women married to non-Singaporean spouses, and examine the constitutional changes to citizenship laws in 2004. I then juxtapose these changes with the regulatory regime for foreign domestic workers to examine the bifurcated approach taken by the Singaporean authorities in managing the two groups of women.

    The institution of the family in Singapore
  10. Singapore subscribes steadfastly to the traditional concept of the family based on the legal marriage between a man and a woman and any resulting children from the matrimonial union. The family is regarded as 'the basic unit of society' in Singapore's five Shared Values, a putative national ideology introduced in 1991, and the importance of the family is regularly underlined in Singapore's official discourse.[12] The government is forthright in declaring Singapore to be a patriarchal society where the man is the head of the household and the woman's role is to care and nurture the family, even though many married women now have professional careers.[13] Public policies have to support this normative ideal. Until the turn of the twenty-first century, the unequal treatment of women included inferior benefits for female civil servants, a quota on female medical students, and gender-biased citizenship laws were a pertinent source of unhappiness for women parliamentarians and women activists.[14]
  11. The state of the family is also conceived to intimately affect the state of the nation. This is premised on the belief that the 'good family' will take care of itself. Consequently, the nation-state—as a collection of 'good families'—will be strong as well. The family is also regarded as the formative source of social capital in a communitarian society, a 'fundamental building block out of which larger social structures can be stably constructed.'[15] The family then is a site for the reproduction of state ideologies, values and norms. In this social reproduction process, parents have a responsibility to prepare their children to be 'good parents and citizens.'[16] Congruent with its strong and publicly declared anti-welfare state stance, the Singapore family is expected to be the first recourse for help when an individual falls on hard times, with the state intervening only as a last resort.[17]
  12. Thus, marriages and the formation of families are seen as key concerns of the 'nanny state.' There are government-supported civil society efforts to complement state-led efforts in matchmaking, promotion of healthy marriages and responsible childbearing.[18] As with other essays in this edited volume that highlight the impact of socio-economic changes on gender issues, Singapore society has to adapt to the multi-faceted changes to and influences on the family. For instance, there has been a rapid increase in the number of non-Singaporeans now residing in Singapore. A related development is that Singaporeans in international marriages are more common today.[19] Between 2000 and 2002, the number of foreigners granted permanent residence under the sponsorship of their Singaporean spouses increased from 4,000 to 5,800.20 In 1998, about three in ten marriages (33 percent) involving Singapore citizens and registered in Singapore were international marriages. In 2008, the figure was almost four in ten (39 percent); the figure was as high as 41 percent in 2005 and it has in the last few years stabilised at about four in ten marriages being international marriages.[21] Based on the 2010 Census of Population, there were an estimated 114,000 married couples comprising a citizen and a non-citizen. Most (86 percent) of the non-citizen spouses were permanent residents, with the remainder residing on other pass types such as the long-term visit pass. However, the actual number of Singaporeans in international marriages is probably higher as some of these marriages were entered into outside of Singapore and were not subsequently registered in Singapore under the Women's Charter or the Administration of Muslim Law Act.
  13. Another phenomenon is the inclination among young Singaporeans towards living and working overseas. A recent survey found that Singaporean teens are more open to emigrating than their Asian peers. While 53 percent of the Singaporean teenagers surveyed would consider emigration, a higher figure of two-thirds would like to work abroad.[22] An estimated 207,000 Singaporeans (or about 6 percent of the total number of Singapore citizens) were working, studying and living abroad in 2013.[23]
  14. Thus, in today's context, the Singaporean family increasingly consists of mixed and multiple nationalities and/or members living in various jurisdictions. An important constituency, this internationalisation of the Singaporean family has led the Singapore government to speak of an 'Overseas Singaporean diaspora' that is 'growing and making significant contributions wherever they are.'[24] In 2006, the Singapore Government established the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) under the Prime Minister's Office to enable the government to better engage overseas Singaporeans in a more concerted manner.[25] Learning from the experience of how other states have effectively engaged their own diasporas, Singapore is increasingly receptive towards moving from a place-centred national identity/citizenship to one where there is 'psychic attachment to Singapore.'[26]
  15. This represents a marked departure from the somewhat derogatory labelling (as recently as in 1999 and 2002) of those who chose to emigrate or work overseas as 'quitters' and 'cosmopolitans,' in contrast to the home-bound 'stayers' and 'heartlanders' who form the core of Singaporean society. Today, the inclusive conception of 'rootedness' to Singapore pragmatically seeks to have Singaporean emigrants think of Singapore as home and nation even if they have emigrated.[27] The family acquires even greater prominence in such a transnational environment, and the granting of citizenship takes centre-stage in demarcating who belongs and who does not to a nation-state.

    Dealing with (once) troublesome women: citizenship law as gate-keeper
  16. A citizenship law regime circumscribes in fairly clear and rigid terms the place of citizens and non-citizens within a nation-state. This gate-keeping function is particularly germane in the Singapore context. Traditionally, citizenship has an in situ element wherein the connection between citizens and their country is expressed predominantly through physical residence in the home country. Through its conferment of legal status and rights, citizenship creates boundaries that seek to include members and exclude non-members based on ascribed attributes, identities and values. Citizenship then becomes a platform by which the citizen and the state engage each other on the basis of their rights and responsibilities within territorial boundaries and, increasingly, extra-territorially.
  17. International marriages, however, challenge the conventional thinking and understanding of citizenship, as they make more pronounced the decoupling of citizenship and residence. In a globalised context, the transnational and trans-border dimensions sit uncomfortably with the notions of state sovereignty, control and jurisdiction. Solely defined by territorial boundaries, the jurisdictional bounds of such laws are increasingly perceived by mobile citizens as being unduly restrictive and citizen-unfriendly. This has necessitated a re-conceptualisation of citizenship, especially of citizen-emigrants, in particular children from those unions who are born outside Singapore. As Kim Barry noted, 'Citizenship—so long a symbol of rootedness, exclusivity, and permanence—has been discovered to be portable, exchangeable, and increasingly multiple.'[28] Prior to 2004, international marriages threw into sharp relief the inequality and limitations of the traditional understanding of citizenship as understood in Singapore.
  18. Increasingly, a state's citizenship regime in the global competitive economy needs to be sensitive at two levels, both of which may have competing and perhaps even contradictory objectives. At one level, it needs to be responsive to local constituencies in the nation-building quest. At another level, it needs to be responsive to the competitive and aggressive immigration regimes in other countries that compete to attract the same talent pool. With intense competition for talented immigrants, Singapore cannot afford to adopt a citizenship regime that marginalises international marriages involving Singaporeans. With more Singaporeans overseas and Singapore's own urgent need for foreign talent to drive its economy and grow its population, Singapore increasingly has to adopt international practices and norms as well as shed its patriarchal inclinations in the maintenance of the Singapore citizenship regime.

      Constitutional changes in 2004 to effect gender-equal citizenship laws

  19. Singapore citizenship laws have remained largely unchanged since Singapore became independent in August 1965.[29] Citizenship was and remains jealously guarded, congruent with the political need to create, out of a society of immigrant backgrounds, a coherent national identity and to secure the citizenry's loyalty to the fledging nation-state. Under Article 120 of Singapore's Constitution, a person may acquire Singapore citizenship through any one of four means: by birth; by descent; by registration or, before the commencement of the Constitution, by enrolment; or by naturalisation. Citizenship in Singapore is accorded either on the jus soli or jus sanguinis principle although both are applied in a limited manner. To acquire citizenship by birth (jus soli), the person must be born in Singapore and either parent must be a Singapore citizen. For citizenship by descent (jus sanguinis), the transmission of citizenship from generation to generation was not always automatic but only available in specific instances.
  20. In 2004, landmark changes were made to relax the restrictions on the granting of citizenship by descent and to increase the length of time a person may spend away from Singapore when considering the residence period for citizenship applications.[30] Prior to the 2004 constitutional amendment, the former Article 122 provided for the granting of citizenship by descent to a child of a Singaporean, when the child was born abroad prior to 15 May 2004, only if the father was a Singapore citizen by birth or registration. If the child's father was a Singapore citizen by descent, or if only the mother was a Singaporean, neither parent could automatically transmit their Singapore citizenship to the child. Singaporean women could still pass on their citizenship, by registration (rather than descent), to their foreign-born child, but this was not conferred as a matter of right. With the amendments to Article 122, a foreign-born child born on or after 15 May 2004 to a Singaporean mother can now acquire citizenship by descent, making the grant of citizenship by descent gender-neutral.
  21. Further, after the 2004 constitutional amendments, parents who are Singapore citizens by descent can also pass on citizenship by descent to their foreign-born children, provided these parents meet a residency criterion to demonstrate the requisite nexus to Singapore. The parent who is a Singapore citizen by descent needs to have stayed in Singapore for a total of five years or more cumulatively over his or her entire life up to the birth of the child.[31] Alternatively, that parent has to have stayed in Singapore for a total of at least two years out of the five years immediately prior to the birth of the child.[32] This could not be done previously and such children could only acquire citizenship by registration.
  22. The policy rationale for the limited application of the jus sanguinis principle, which tended to affect foreign-born children of Singaporeans in international marriages most severely, was to ensure that Singapore would not have 'generations of absentee Singaporeans with no real links to Singapore.'[33] Interestingly, up to three years prior to these significant changes to the citizenship law regime, there was little indication that such a policy shift was in the making.

      Shedding Patriarchy?

  23. In its January 2000 and April 2001 reports required under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Singapore ratified in 1995, the Singapore government had defended its gender-biased citizenship laws on the basis that they were in line with 'Asian tradition where husbands are the heads of households' and that a Singaporean woman married to a foreigner could apply for her children to be Singapore citizens by registration under her own sponsorship.[34]
  24. This reliance on and defence of the 'Asian tradition' of patriarchy was not persuasive despite its claim of supposed cultural affinity. The official view was that Singaporean women who moved overseas were cutting themselves off from Singapore and their families, and that they were dependent on their foreign husbands (or vice-versa). In paternalistic fashion, the state viewed a Singaporean female citizen in an international marriage and who had emigrated as having opted to exclude herself from the larger Singapore family: an anti-national act as it were. As such, the policy thinking was that since the mother had consciously sought to exclude herself from Singapore, her foreign-born children should not be afforded the option of having Singapore citizenship by descent. It is precisely this paternalism and chauvinism of seeing women as mere dependents in marriages and in the migration process that had prevented equal rights being accorded to Singaporean women in international marriages prior to 2004.[35]
  25. However, in its third CEDAW report in November 2004, after the abovementioned constitutional changes to the citizenship laws were effected, the Singapore government highlighted the constitutional amendment as a key example of its commitment to improving the position and rights of Singaporean women.[36] This about-turn did not pivot on the 'Asian tradition' of patriarchy relied upon in the first two CEDAW reports that Singapore filed. Clearly, the earlier approach of valorising culture and patriarchy could not be reconciled with the fact that the previous citizenship laws were, in essence, discriminatory and counter-productive.
  26. Earlier that year (2004), in responding to questions raised during the parliamentary debate on the citizenship law changes, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong assured Parliament that 'we are doing it [making citizenship laws gender-neutral] for the right reason but there is a purpose.' The purpose was 'to bring our rules up to date and in keeping with the times and the tenor of the society we live in':

      Many of the women who go overseas are professionals. They marry foreigners. They keep their links with Singapore. They have not just opted out from Singapore society. They have families and friends on both sides, but they come back to Singapore from time to time…. They are our people and we have to look after them. As I have suggested from the numbers that I produced just now, more and more Singaporean women are doing this. A lot of our daughters who travel overseas and study overseas marry and live overseas. But they have parents here and they keep their links back here.[37]

  27. Such women marriage emigrants are now no longer regarded as 'deserters' to be marginalised from the Singapore polity but should be treated as citizens abroad who can still contribute to Singapore in more ways than one. This could be attributed to the reality of a limited brain drain. The change in laws seeks not only to facilitate 'brain circulation' but also to reduce the 'leakage' of talented women and their children. In 2008, about 30 percent of citizen births were from international marriages.[38]
  28. Notwithstanding the government's stance that the citizenship law changes were motivated by the ideal of gender parity, the government assertively reiterated that it was 'a statement of fact' that Singapore was still a patrilineal society. Recognising that the changes would still leave Singapore's citizenship regime twenty years behind that of the United States and the United Kingdom, Deputy Prime Minister Lee justified the conservative approach as one of maintaining social ballast and letting other countries take the lead so that Singapore had the benefit of observing over one to two generations if these leading edge social changes would make sense and benefit Singapore.

      The political economy of international marriages and the race for talent

  29. Although the parliamentary debate on the matter highlighted the motivating factor of gender equality, there was hardly any discussion that the constitutional amendment was just as, if not more, motivated by the pressing concerns of rapidly declining birth rates, the increased occurrences of international marriages, and the politico-economic benefits of having a gender-neutral citizenship regime. The only acknowledgement of the latter factor was the reference to the fact that 'many of the women who go overseas are professionals.' This pithy statement encapsulates the transformative changes that have taken place since the government's passing of the Women's Charter in September 1961.[39] Singaporean women are now as well educated as, if not better educated than, their male counterparts and have better employment opportunities locally and abroad.[40]
  30. International marriages involving Singapore female citizens raise the likelihood of their potential or permanent emigration, which would be a further strain on Singapore's already limited human capital. Moreover, given the state's belief that better educated parents beget brighter children, the prospect of 'losing' Singaporean mothers and their foreign-born children is a potential human resource loss that should be avoided in light of Singapore's demographic challenges of persistently low birth rates, delayed marriages and a rapidly ageing population.[41] As the government-sponsored Remaking Singapore Committee noted in its 2003 report:

      Our current [pre-May 2004] citizenship policy does not encourage the rooting of the Singaporean man/woman, his/her foreign spouse and their children to Singapore. With increased globalization and our relatively open policy towards foreign talent, there is a danger that we could lose a significant number of our better-educated daughters, and their offspring, through Singaporean-foreigner marriages if they perceive that we do not value them as much as we value our male citizens and their offspring.[42]

    Although no significant brain drain had yet taken place, the citizenship law changes provided the crucial nexus between absent Singapore citizens and the prospect of their return migration or talent circulation.
  31. The granting to Singaporean women the right to transmit to their foreign-born children citizenship by descent, as of right, helps ensure that they do not prematurely exclude Singapore in terms of their nationality choices and as a putative home for themselves, their children and foreign spouses. This seems to be borne out by the data following the 2004 citizenship law changes. Between 2000 and 2004, an annual average of 700 Singapore citizenships was granted by descent to minors born overseas to Singapore citizens. Almost two-thirds of these minors (or 64 percent) declared that they were holding a foreign citizenship at the point of registration for Singapore citizenship. Between 2005 and 2009, there was a 36 percent increase (to 1,100) in the number of Singapore citizenships by descent granted annually to minors born overseas to Singapore citizens. For this group, 68 percent of these minors declared that they were holding a foreign citizenship at the point of registration for Singapore citizenship.[43]
  32. This reflects the reality that international marriages and the global pursuit of human capital conspire to challenge the notion of place-bound citizenship. Developed countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and many European Union countries are competing to make themselves attractive immigration destinations. These countries aim to appeal to the well-educated segment of the potential migrant pool to augment their human resource capability in their knowledge-based economies. In Asia, economic success is also increasingly dependent on the state's ability to articulate and engage with transnational networks and global professionals who not only embrace self-enterprising values but practise 'flexible citizenship' in tandem with their mobility.[44] More than ever, citizenship rights and benefits are 'contingent upon individual market performance.'[45] As Ayelet Shachar notes of the race for talent and knowledge workers, 'it is the human in "human capital" that makes it a unique, distinct, and irreplaceable resource.'[46]
  33. The 2004 citizenship law changes reflect the larger reality that Singapore's citizenship regime can no longer remain isolated from global developments. The citizenship regime and the immigration and emigration policies need to be as competitive as other countries that seek to attract the best-qualified migrants. Singapore has had to reconceptualise membership boundaries for its citizenry in order to better attract foreign talent and also not to lose home-grown talent especially among those in international marriages and/or who live overseas.[47]
  34. What might be the economic benefits to Singapore from taking a more nuanced and less paternalistic view of international marriages? Singapore's economy is not dependent on remittances from its overseas-based nationals. Rather, it is the intangible human capital 'losses' that worry the political elite. Absent citizens or former citizens with positive affective bonds to Singapore may create economic opportunities in/for Singapore through investments or entering into economic partnerships with Singaporean businesses or individuals, whether in Singapore or overseas. The government has also not foreclosed the return migration of overseas Singaporeans and, to a lesser extent, ex-citizens as well. Here the Singapore government is learning from the network capitalism experience of diasporic Indian, Chinese and Jewish entrepreneurs who move regularly between the United States and their ancestral homelands, establishing substantial cross-border economic activity, capital transfers through investments, collaborative technology transfer, access to markets, entrepreneurial connections and information networks.[48]
  35. Singapore's fledgling efforts to be a key knowledge arbitrageur in Asia will also depend on its ability to capitalise on the putative Singapore diaspora that it views as a potential source of socio-economic and cultural opportunities and engagement between the rest of the world and a rising Asia.[49] Seen in this light, the shift towards gender-equal citizenship laws is not only long overdue but necessary. Because of the legislation of gender-equal citizenship laws, Singaporean women with foreign husbands have become less 'troublesome' vis-à-vis their male counterparts with foreign wives.
  36. However, this ostensible gender equality is not manifested where it concerns foreign workers. Just as Singapore has to adapt to the phenomenon of the movement of people for purposes of work, education and lifestyle choices, it also has to 'import' foreign women, especially for domestic work. Unsurprisingly, the patriarchal state has always regarded these women as necessitating close management in order that they do not become 'troublesome.'

    Dealing with (perceived) troublesome women from abroad
  37. Singapore has one of the highest numbers of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) per one thousand households in the world: In 2011, it was 175 FDWs per one thousand households. This was higher than Hong Kong's 122 per one thousand households. There are currently about 211,000 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) working in Singapore; in December 2007, the figure was 183,200. This translates to almost one in five households in Singapore employing at least one FDW,[50] demonstrating the impact of what has been popularly referred to as 'global care chains' and 'transnational mothering.'[51] The number of FDWs has steadily increased over the last three decades as more Singaporean married women work and as Singapore ages relatively rapidly. To help regulate demand for FDWs and other transient workers by reducing excessive reliance on them, the government imposes a foreign worker levy. In fact, without the government-imposed FDW monthly levy of SG$265 (of which the concession levy is SG$170), the number of FDWs in Singapore would certainly be greater.[52] Work permits for employment as FDWs are issued only to females from approved source countries. Most FDWs in Singapore come from the Philippines and Indonesia, with smaller numbers coming from Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma).[53]
  38. The relative ease and affordability of hiring FDWs in Singapore have been a boon for many Singaporean households, especially dual income ones, enabling many married Singaporean women to seek employment outside the home.[54] A study has suggested that FDWs in Singapore (and Hong Kong) help raised the income of local low-skilled Singaporean workers by 3.9 percent, and contributed to a 1.2 percent boost in the overall income of the economy. The same study stated that FDWs also helped reduce the wage gap between high-skilled and low-skilled workers.[55] Nevertheless, the presence of almost 1.3 million foreign workers (and professionals) in Singapore has provoked knee-jerk criticism and irrational fears that transient foreign workers, in general, cost local workers their jobs, depress local wages and are prone to vice and criminal activity.[56]

      Privileging contractual law: of surveillance, control and regulation of FDWs

  39. Singapore's openness to immigration for demographic, economic and political imperatives should not be mistaken as the state's relinquishing control and influence over such movements of people. Its acceptance of transient foreign workers co-exists with an extensive surveillance system to ensure that these workers do not become permanent residents or citizens. The trade-off between openness and rights characterises the labour immigration policies of many high-income countries, including Singapore.[57] Transient foreign workers, including FDWs, are given work permits to work in Singapore on the condition that they will leave the country at the end of their work contracts. Even before entering Singapore for employment, they must also agree to not making any claim to Singapore citizenship. Significantly, Singapore does not subscribe to the principle that a foreigner, by virtue of having worked and lived for an extended period in Singapore, acquires a moral or legal entitlement to rights of membership, including citizenship. For Singapore, unlike liberal western democracies, according the rights of citizenship or permanent residence is considered a prerogative of national sovereignty, not one of moral equity earned or conferred benevolently on migrants.
  40. As such, borders become 'central places of anxiety about control and sovereignty.'[58] Border controls inform us why and how a state governs access to and control over matters such as employment, family unification, residency, citizenship and the like, which many citizens take for granted. While most transient workers in Singapore are not preoccupied with making Singapore their permanent home, their expectations are nonetheless adroitly managed from the outset. The conditions attached to their work permits ensure that the workers are fully alive to this reality of exclusion through a contractual undertaking that they will not be able to secure full membership in the Singapore polity.

      Marriage restriction policy

  41. This overarching message that transient foreign workers are unsuitable for inclusion into Singapore society is reinforced by the marriage restriction policy, another onerous condition governing the conduct of transient foreign workers and which could potentially affect their life chances. The marriage restriction policy's primary objective is to ensure that the temporary labour migration of low-skilled workers does not become permanent through subsequent marriages with Singapore citizens or permanent residents. Under this policy, a foreign work-permit holder 'shall not go through any form of marriage under any law, religion, custom or usage with a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident in or outside Singapore without the prior approval of the Controller [of Immigration], while he/she holds a Work Permit, and also after his/her Work Permit has expired or has cancelled or revoked.'[59] Those who marry a Singapore resident without approval during the course of their employment in Singapore will be repatriated and disallowed future entry into Singapore.
  42. These conditions apply even after the foreign worker's work permit has expired or has been cancelled or revoked.[60] This draconian approach to the marriage restriction policy has been justified as follows:

      So imagine if every other ex-work permit holder were to marry a Singaporean, we would not be able to manage our social services and social system…. Even though we want to increase our population size, we have to ensure that those who want to live and have families in Singapore can look after themselves, their children and their families. That is the basic premise that we all must understand…. Singaporeans do have human rights to be able to look after ourselves and manage our limited resources and to ensure that those legitimate Singaporeans would be well looked after and would not exact too much of our social system [emphasis added].[61]

  43. For a government that generally refrains from a governance discourse premised on rights, this selective use of human rights and how the human rights of Singaporeans need to be balanced against that of non-Singaporeans is interesting. Although the human rights of 'legitimate Singaporeans' (to be well looked after) are prioritised, the regulatory regime governing the transient foreign workers consciously resists such a rights-based approach.
  44. For FDWs, the regulatory framework extends to surveillance of their physical bodies. FDWs are required to go for a six-monthly medical examination (6ME) by a registered Singapore doctor 'to screen for infectious diseases and pregnancies.' A FDW who fails the 6ME will be repatriated immediately. According to the Manpower Ministry:

      The 6ME helps to ensure that FDWs do not carry infectious diseases such as HIV [sic] or TB, which might harm them or the people they come into contact with. This is especially important as they work in a residential environment and may have contact with children. A pregnancy test is also required for the FDWs. A FDW who fails the 6ME should be repatriated immediately.[62]

  45. In addition, the 'Conditions for Work Permit/Visit Pass for Foreign Worker' stipulates that the FDW 'shall not become pregnant or deliver any child in Singapore during and after the validity period of her Work Permit, unless she is a Work Permit holder who is already married to a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident with the approval of the Controller.' Another condition is that the 'foreign employee shall not be involved in any illegal, immoral or undesirable activities, including breaking up families in Singapore'.[63]
  46. The pervasive reach of this employment condition even after the period of employment emphatically marks this group of workers, especially the women who are FDWs, as transient and 'unacceptable' for inclusion into Singapore society.[64] The image of foreigners taking advantage of Singapore's social welfare system in the absence of controls is also regularly portrayed and, in fact, used to justify the onerous marriage restriction policy. Stripped of official legalese, the marriage restriction policy helps ensure that temporary labour migration of unskilled and low-skilled workers does not become permanent through subsequent marriages with Singapore residents. It also reifies the stereotype of the low-skilled foreign workers as having the invariable disposition and intention to be dependents of the state and/or their Singapore spouses.[65] Marriage and mothering for this group of workers are premised on their not being desirable for Singapore society. This elitist mind-set and, arguably, eugenics-accented policy results in a set of particularist immigration and employment regulations that also effectively operate as a de facto family law and citizenship law.[66]
  47. The fear of migrants as potential burdens to and parasitic of Singapore society is therefore managed through a rigorous gate-keeping function whereby the granting of 'citizen' or 'permanent resident' status is a means of determining who gets to enjoy rights and benefits such as social services, government subsidies and grants. Even foreign spouses of Singaporeans, if they are not Singapore citizens or permanent residents, do not enjoy subsidies for the use of medical services, education and public housing. In response to societal concerns that Singapore citizenship carries no obvious pecuniary advantage, the policy approach in recent years has been to differentiate more clearly between citizens, permanent residents (PRs), and non-citizens and non-PRs.[67]
  48. The marriage restriction policy can be understood as an attempt by the state at institutional control over citizenship grants, in tandem with its policy objectives and concerns in the areas of population, talent attraction, and the all-important economic objectives. At the same time, through the marriage restriction policy, the state effectively generates a hierarchy of international marriages characterised by their relative potential contributions (especially economic) to Singapore, their ease of social integration, and their perceived likely demand on the public welfare and social system.
  49. The Singapore government is alive to the potential of international marriages becoming an arena of contention over rights, privileges and access to employment, government services and assistance. It ensures that contestation is reduced, if not pre-empted, by resolutely maintaining a marital union regime that characterises marriages involving Singapore residents and FDWs as 'troublesome,' if not 'problematic.' Thus, immigration and employment laws and regulations in Singapore retain their utility as strategic gate-keeping tools that simultaneously exclude, maintain inequalities and enforce status hierarchies. Together, the law emphasises the residual but still potent power of the Singapore state in discriminating and placing significant constraints on the Singapore citizen or permanent resident's choice of life partner, especially where it involves a foreign worker on a work permit working in Singapore.
  50. The discriminatory attitude and the instrumental regulatory framework towards the foreign workers in general may have spawned the unfortunate cases of foreign workers being poorly treated over the years. Reports of foreign workers being unpaid, abandoned or housed in poor conditions are regularly covered in the local media.[68] Indeed, the conditions attached to a FDW's work permit would strike many as being unfair, unjust and discriminatory.
  51. However, there is no public clamour as yet for removing such onerous conditions of employment. At one level, it may reflect the callousness of the immigration policy in place as well as the apathy of the average Singaporean towards human rights, especially when it concerns foreign workers with a transient presence in Singapore performing menial jobs. At another level, it may well reflect a situation in which all parties, including the FDWs and the authorities, are fully aware of their respective legal standing. Even where rights are fully in play, and even then asymmetrically since the foreign worker has to accept the conditions without question, they are focused almost exclusively on contractual rights of the Singapore state vis-à-vis the transient foreign workers. The promotion and protection of human rights vis-àvis the FDWs do not enter public discourse in Singapore in any significant way.[69]

    Pre-empting trouble: avoiding contestation over rights and privileges
  52. Notwithstanding that marriage is, in essence, a private matter between two persons, the intimacy and privacy of marriage has public policy implications in Singapore in areas such as citizenship rights and family law. For Singapore citizens in international marriages, the transnational nature of such unions invariably challenges in various ways state sovereignty, state ideology and policies on the family, and the application of citizenship laws. Where transient foreign workers are concerned, the Singapore state is fully alive to and seeks to pre-empt any rights contestation. This attitude towards FDWs stands in stark contrast to the changed attitude of the authorities towards Singaporean women with foreign spouses and their foreign-born children.
  53. Significant as the 2004 constitutional changes to Singapore's citizenship laws were, it should be borne in mind that the changes were not as liberal as they were thought to be. While it removed the gender bias, the citizenship law and regime persisted in imposing severe limits with respect to equality vis-à-vis marital unions involving a foreign partner. Certain categories of international marriages, in particular those between Singapore citizens or permanent residents and unskilled/lowly-skilled work permit holders such as male construction workers and female domestic workers, require prior permission from the state. As such, immigration and employment laws in Singapore potentially retain their utility to exclude, create inequalities and reify hierarchies.
  54. State sovereignty and state patriarchy, while seemingly challenged by international marriages as the 2004 constitutional amendment in Singapore implicitly recognised, are still preserved rather than wholly negated. While both state sovereignty and state patriarchy may be weakened at the margins, they arguably are securely maintained at the core. Singapore's bifurcated embrace of international marriages requires us to re-look the apparent 'liberalisation' of attitudes, policies and laws in this area against the background of the state's domineering conception of Singapore society as patriarchal. Much as the citizenship law changes positively affect children born of such unions, the state also benefits by embracing such a societal change.
  55. By making Singapore's citizenship law gender-neutral, the role of the family as an important social institution is underscored by ensuring that Singaporean women in international marriages can transmit, as of right, their citizenship to their foreign-born children. More importantly, where the government is concerned, such family units despite being overseas can have powerful links with Singapore, enabling a continued, if limited, institutional influence over the family as the basic building block of Singapore society. Such residual influence may be used for other instrumental purposes. This underscores the state's ideological apparatus and policy framework vis-à-vis the family is capable of adapting to the trend of international marriages.

  56. The immigration of talented people is often rationalised unilaterally by the state as being good for Singapore and its people. In contrast, FDWs are conceptualised and treated as being unsuitable for inclusion into Singapore society. Yet this bifurcated regime is necessary and relied upon because intellectual talent, technical know-how, and sinews are needed to ensure that the engines of the economy can roar. It entails a heavy reliance on the contracts that FDWs have to enter into with the state and employer with regards to her macro- and micro-existence during the tenure of her employment. This heavy reliance on a FDW agreeing to the conditions that come with her work permit highlights the prominence of a market fundamentalism based on contracts functioning both as a legal agreement and as a form of social control and regulation.
  57. Furthermore, with the objective to exclude, the restrictions and surveillance mandated that flow from the issuance of the work permits to FDWs could be described as the 'governmentality by exclusion.' This extension of border control to the personal realm (for instance, the regular medical examinations required) and the extra-territorial reach (via the marriage restriction policy) suggest the prominence of control and discipline, highlighting the paradigm of exclusion through regulation. While the liberal approach advocates granting citizenship rights to foreigners who have lived and worked in a state for an extended period, such a position has little traction in Singapore. Instead, immigration policies and laws circumscribe in fairly clear and rigid terms the differentiated status of various migrant groups within the nation-state. Through its conferment of differentiated legal status and rights, immigrant status and citizenship entitlements create boundaries that seek to include members and exclude non-members based on ascribed attributes, identities and values.
  58. Besides highlighting the inherent limits to the state's power of discursive constructions of gender in the national interest, the Singapore case demonstrates that contemporary immigration and globalisation have challenged the conventional thinking and understanding of citizenship, and notions of who belongs and who does not. Increasing international marriages and pervasive in- and out-migration for purposes of employment, study and family make more pronounced the decoupling of citizenship and residence. This transnational dimension continues to sit uncomfortably with the state's imperatives of sovereignty, control and jurisdiction. In the final analysis, Singapore's state paternalism as the essence and embodiment of the nation and state authority ensures that the bifurcated approach towards the management of 'troublesome women' will endure for the foreseeable future.


    [1] Attributed to Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding Prime Minister (1959–90), Senior Minister (1990–2004), and Minister Mentor (2004–11).

    [2] As at June 2013, the non-Singaporean population comprised 531,200 permanent residents and 1,554,400 non-permanent residents. The total population was 5,399,200. See National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) et al., Population in Brief 2013, Singapore: NPTD, September 2013.

    [3] Figures obtained from 'Little India – home away from home,' the Straits Times, 14 December 2013, p. D3, citing data from the Ministry of Manpower.

    [4] Then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong put the low birth-rate problem starkly: 'This means that we are not replacing both parents. The last time we were replacing both parents was thirty years ago [1976]. And that was a Dragon Year! If the total fertility rate falls further, we will not be replacing even the mother! Will Singapore last one hundred years if local-born Singaporeans are becoming an endangered species?' Goh Chok Tong, 'The Singapore nation: a work in progress,' speech by the Senior Minister at the Marine Parade National Day Dinner, 19 August 2006. In the Chinese horoscope, the Dragon year (which occurs once in the twelve-year Chinese zodiac cycle) is regarded as a particularly auspicious time to have a child. By 2005, all races in Singapore were reproducing below replacement level.

    [5] This is most compellingly put forth in the government's controversial Population White Paper, A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore, Singapore: National Population and Talent Division, Prime Minister's Office, January 2013, online:, 1 February 2013.

    [6] On the global race for talent, see Ayelet Shachar, 'The race for talent: highly skilled migrants and competitive immigration regimes,' in New York University Law Review, vol. 81, no. 1 (2006): 148–206.

    [7] These concerns were expressed again, vociferously, in the aftermath of the Little India riot involving more than 400 foreign workers on 8 December 2013.

    [8] For a general overview, see Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Natalie Yap, 'Gateway Singapore: immigration policies, differential (non)incorporation, and identity politics,' in Migrants to the Metropolis: The Rise of Immigrant Gateway Cities, ed. Marie Price and Lisa Benton-Short, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008, pp. 177–202.

    [9] 'Fewer foreign workers? The price is slower growth,' the Straits Times, 21 October 2008. The rapid increase in the number of foreign workers in Singapore has to led to a lack of decent housing for them, and some Singaporeans are concerned that a foreign worker dormitory in their residential neighbourhood would lead to increased crime, disorderly behaviour and that the value of their residential properties would be negatively affected. See 'A dangerous divide,' Today, 18 September 2008; 'Serangoon Gardens dorm to go ahead,' the Straits Times, 4 October 2008; 'Margaret Drive to get foreign worker dorm,' the Straits Times, 4 December 2008.

    [10] Narayanan Ganesan. 'Singapore in 2008: a few highs and lows while bracing for the future,' Asian Survey, vol. 49, no. 1 (2009): 213–19, p. 218.

    [11] Article 12, Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1999 Reprint Edition).

    [12] Singapore's Shared Values, adopted by the Parliament of Singapore on 15 January 1991, are:

      * Nation before community and society above self;
      * Family as the basic unit of society;
      * Community support and respect for the individual;
      * Consensus, not conflict;
      * Racial and religious harmony.

    [13] On wives (of Singaporean men working overseas) as the cultural defenders and carriers of their families, see Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Shirlena Huang and Kate Willis, 'Global cities, transnational flows and gender dimensions: the view from Singapore,' in Tijdschrift Voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, vol. 91, no. 2 (2000): 26–37.

    [14] Mandakini Arora (ed.), Small Steps, Giant Leaps: A History of AWARE and the Women's Movement in Singapore, Singapore: The Association of Women for Action and Research, 2007; Aline Wong, 'Women in politics,' in Her Story: SCWO's 25th Anniversary: Celebrating Womanhood, ed. Tisa Ng, Singapore: DL Publishing, 2005, pp. 98–103.

    [15] (White Paper on) Shared Values (Cmd. 1 of 1991), Singapore: Government of Singapore, 1991, para. 12.

    [16] (White Paper on) Shared Values para. 56.

    [17] The themes of personal and collective responsibility and the paradox of active government support for self-reliance in Singapore's social policies were reiterated by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his speech, 'The invisible hand of social culture,' at the 6th S. Rajaratnam Lecture, 2 December 2013, online:, 27 February 2014.

    [18] For a description of these efforts, see Public Education Committee on Family, Family Matters, Singapore: Public Education Committee on Family, 2002, online:, 27 February 2014. On the problemisation of women, reproduction and culture in Singapore's state narrative(s), see Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, 'State fatherhood: the politics of nationalism, sexuality, and race in Singapore,' in Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia, ed. Aihwa Ong and Michael G. Peletz, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1995, pp. 195–215; John Clammer, 'Reinscribing patriarchy: the sexual politics of neo-Confucianism in contemporary Singapore,' Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford, vol. 28, no. 3 (1997): 249–73.

    [19] 'International marriage' is understood here as a marriage between two persons of different nationalities. International marriages, coupled with increased migration and globalisation, have made boundaries between states, peoples, and identities more porous. See also Nicole Constable (ed.), Cross-border Marriages: Gender and Mobility in Transnational Asia, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

    [20] 'More foreign-born kids to get citizenships,' Straits Times, 20 April 2004.

    [21] Figures obtained from the National Population Secretariat's June 2009 Occasional Paper, 'Marriages between Singapore Citizens and Non-Singapore Citizens, 1998–2008', online:,%201998-2008.pdf, 27 February 2014.

    [22] 'Teens here "more open to emigrating",' Straits Times, 25 July 2006; 27 July 2006.

    [23] NPTD et al., Population in Brief 2013, Table 17, p. 24.

    [24] Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng to the overseas Singaporean community in London, 13 March 2006, online:, accessed 27 February 2014.

    [25] See further the Overseas Singaporean Unit's portal, online: The OSU is part of the larger National Population and Talent Division (NPTD). The NPTD supports the ministerial-level National Population Committee and is also responsible for setting policy objectives and coordinating the whole-of-government efforts in the continuum of population-related issues facing Singapore.

    [26] See, for example, this usage by Lee Boon Yang, Speech by Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Singapore HeritageFest, 2006, 12 July 2006.

    [27] On the various bonding mechanisms that emigration states have used to engage their expatriates, see Anupan Chander, 'Homeward bound,' New York University Law Review, vol. 81, no. 1 (2006): 60–89.

    [28] Kim Barry, 'Home and away: the construction of citizenship in an emigration context,' New York University Law Review, vol. 81, no. 1 (2006): 11–59.

    [29] On the development of Singapore's citizenship law, see Goh Phai Cheng, Citizenship Laws of Singapore, Singapore: Educational Book Publishers, 1970.

    [30] See Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 2004. For a fuller discussion of this constitutional amendment to the citizenship laws, see Eugene K.B. Tan, 'A union of gender equality and pragmatic patriarchy: international marriages and citizenship laws in Singapore,' Citizenship Studies, vol. 12, no. 1 (2008): 73–89.

    [31] Article 122(3)(a) of the Singapore Constitution.

    [32] Article 122(3)(b) of the Singapore Constitution.

    [33] 'Changes to citizenship laws,' Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, 15 May 2004, online:, accessed 27 February 2014.

    [34] Ministry of Community Development, Singapore's Initial Report to the UN Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Singapore: Ministry of Community Development and Sports, 2000; Ministry of Community Development, Singapore's Second Report to the UN Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Singapore: Ministry of Community Development and Sports, 2001. On the Chinese and Confucian influence on gender relations in Asia, see Peter N. Stearns, Gender in World History, New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 54– 61.

    [35] Notwithstanding the conventional understanding of the relatively high status of Southeast Asian women, Andaya notes that the 'fears of uncontrolled female sexuality thread through the record from very early times.' Barbara Andaya, The Flaming Womb: Repositioning Women in Early Modern Southeast Asia, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006, p. 9.

    [36] Ministry of Community Development, Singapore's Third Periodic Report to the UN Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Singapore: Ministry of Community Development and Sports, 2004.

    [37] Parliamentary speech by Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore Parliament Reports, vol. 77, col. 2808, 19 April 2004.

    [38] Figures obtained from the National Population Secretariat's Occasional Paper, 'Marriages between Singapore Citizens and Non-Singapore Citizens, 1998–2008,' June 2009, p. 7, online:,%201998-2008.pdf, accessed 27 February 2014.

    [39] Leong Wai Kum, Family Law in Singapore: Cases and Commentary on the Women's Charter and Family Law, Singapore: Malayan Law Journal, 1990, pp. 8–19.

    [40] Ricardo Hausmann, Laura D. Tyson and Saadia Zahidi, The Global Gender Gap Report 2006, Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2006, p. 121, noted that the gender gap was still significant in Singapore. Singapore attained its best ranking (55th) in the 2012 survey. See also Chris Hudson, Beyond the Singapore Girl: Discourses of Gender and Nation in Singapore, Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2013.

    [41] As then Minister Raymond Lim urged the youths in 2006, 'If you end up marrying them [foreigners], that is alright but please settle down in Singapore to raise your children.' 'Staying relevant in the midst of globalisation,' speech by Mr Raymond Lim, Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Temasek Seminar, 26 July 2006, online:, accessed 27 February 2014.

    [42] Remaking Singapore Committee, Changing Mindsets, Deepening Relations, Singapore: Remaking Singapore Committee, 2003, p. 65.

    [43] Figures provided in a reply to a parliamentary question on 8 April 2013. The number of minors holding foreign citizenship at the point of registration for Singapore citizenship is probably higher since some minors would have applied for a foreign citizenship after acquiring Singaporean citizenship. To retain their Singapore citizenship, individuals with a foreign citizenship must renounce their foreign citizenship within twelve months upon reaching the age of twenty-one.

    [44] Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

    [45] Aihwa Ong, 'Mutations of citizenship,' Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 23, nos 2–3 (2006): 499–505, p. 500.

    [46] Shachar, 'The race for talent,' pp. 148, 152.

    [47] See also Aihwa Ong, 'Please stay: pied-a-terre subjects in the megacity,' Citizenship Studies, vol. 11, no. 1 (2007), 83–93.

    [48] On this engagement of diasporas, see further AnnaLee Saxanian, The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007; Michael J. Trebilock and Matthew Sudak, 'The political economy of emigration and immigration,' New York University Law Review, vol. 81, no. 1 (2006): 234–93; Bernard P. Wong, The Chinese in Silicon Valley: Globalization, Social Networks, and Ethnic Identity, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. For an example of how India is engaging the Indian diaspora, see Non Resident Indians & Persons of Indian Origin Division, Ministry of External Affairs, 'Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora 2002,' online:, accessed 27 February 2014.

    [49] Eugene K.B. Tan, 'The lion engages the dragon and the elephant: Singapore as a knowledge arbitrageur in a new Asia,' Journal of Asian Business, vol. 22, nos 2–3, and vol. 23, no. 1 (2006–07): 81–101.

    [50] For more details, see Ministry of Manpower, 'Work Permit (Foreign Domestic Worker) – Before You Apply,' Singapore Government, 2013, online:, accessed 27 February 2014.

    [51] On global care chains, see Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild (eds), Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, New York: Henry Holt, 2002; and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. On the East Asian context, see Emiko Ochiai et al., 'Gender roles and childcare networks in East and Southeast Asian societies,' in Asia's New Mothers: Crafting Gender Roles and Childcare Networks in East and Southeast Asian Societies, ed. Emiko Ochiai and Barbara Maloney, Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2008, pp. 31–70; Emiko Ochiai, 'Care diamonds and welfare regimes in East and South-east Asian societies: bridging family and welfare sociology,' International Journal of Japanese Sociology, vol. 18, no. 1 (2009): 60–78.

    [52] The FDW levy was put in place by the Singapore government on the grounds that it ensures that only employers who need and have the financial capability to hire an FDW are able to do so.

    [53] The approved source countries include Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

    [54] On the relevance and irrelevance of gender in Singapore, see Youyenn Teo, 'Gender disarmed: how gendered policies produce gender-neutral politics in Singapore,' Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 34, no. 3 (2009): 533–57.

    [55] See Michael Kramer and Stanley Watt, 'The globalization of household production,' unpublished paper, October 2005, online:, accessed 27 February 2014.

    [56] For instance, the overall arrest rate in 2007 for foreigners (385 arrested per 100,000) is lower than that for Singapore citizens and permanent residents (435 per 100,000): see 'Unjustified fears,' Today, 15 September 2008. Such discourse is not unusual although highly discriminatory. On the use of criminal justice imagery and strategies in the management of foreign nationals, see Mary Bosworth and Mhairi Guild, 'Governing through migration control: security and citizenship in Britain,' British Journal of Criminology, vol. 48, no. 6 (2008): 703–19.

    [57] See further, Martin Ruhs, The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labour Migration, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.

    [58] Kathy E. Ferguson, Sally Engle Merry and Monique Mironesco, 'Introduction,' in Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific: Method, Practice, Theory ed. Kathy E. Ferguson and Monique Mironesco, Honolulu: Hawai'i University Press, 2008, pp. 1–12, p. 7.

    [59] See Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, S 569/12, 8 November 2012, issued under the Employment of Foreign Workers Act (Cap. 91A), online:, 1 March 2014.

    [60] Of course, there is nothing to stop a former FDW from marrying a Singapore resident outside of Singapore. However, the prospect of the former FDW being allowed to reside in Singapore with her husband subsequently is practically non-existent. Where immigration control is concerned, the elaborate security effort in conjunction with dealing with terrorism threats, biometrics such as finger-prints, retina and iris analyses to verify the identities of persons seeking entry to Singapore—whether as tourists or not—can be easily applied to former work permit holders seeking entry into Singapore. To build such a capability, Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority announced in 2009 that it was setting up a Human Factors Laboratory.

    [61] Senior Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Manpower, Mr Hawazi Daipi, Parliamentary Debates Singapore Official Report, vol. 78, col. 666 (21 September 2004).

    [62] See Ministry of Manpower website, online:, 1 March 2014.

    [63] See Part IV of 'Conditions for Work Permit/Visit Pass for Foreign Worker' issued under the Employment of Foreign Workers Act, paras 9 and 10.

    [64] See further Brenda S.A. Yeoh, 'Bifurcated labor: the unequal incorporation of transmigrants in Singapore,' Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, vol. 97, no. 1 (2006): 26–37.

    [65] For information that marriage migrants often provide unpaid domestic work, elder care and child bearing, see Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Heng Leng Chee and Grace H.Y. Baey, 'The place of Vietnamese marriage migrants in Singapore: social reproduction, social "problems" and social protection,' Third World Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 10 (2013): 1927–41. This importance of 'practical care' should not be underestimated. See Rattana Jongwilaiwan and Eric C. Thomposn, 'Thai wives in Singapore and transnational patriarchy,' Gender, Place and Culture, vol. 20, no. 3 (2013): 363–81.

    [66] On the apparent lack of concern with the 'permanent second-class citizenship' for foreign domestic workers in Singapore and Hong Kong, see Daniel A. Bell's chapter 'Justice for migrant workers? the case of migrant domestic workers in East Asia,' in his Beyond Liberal Democracy: Political Thinking for an East Asian Context, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006, pp. 281–322.

    [67] The ultimate intent is to treat citizens better than permanent residents, and non-citizens, generally.

    [68] See, for example, 'No wages, no work, poor living conditions,' Sunday Times (Singapore), 28 December 2008; 'Sick foreign workers have it tough,' Sunday Times (Singapore), 4 January 2009; 'Crack down on abuse of foreign workers', Business Times (Singapore), 7 January 2009. See also the highly critical report by Human Rights Watch, Maid to Order: Ending Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore, New York: Human Rights Watch, 2005, online:, 1 March 2014. This report drew a strong response from the Singapore government.

    [69] For a fuller discussion, see Eugene K.B. Tan, 'Managing female foreign domestic workers in Singapore: economic pragmatism, coercive legal regulation, or human rights?' Israel Law Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (2010): 99–125.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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