AT HOME: Mr Samir Salim Neji, pictured with his wife and daughters, became a citizen in 2004. He agrees with MP Darryl David's suggestion of additional assimilation requirements.

MP Darryl David suggests more requirements for new citizens

Last week, Member of Parliament Darryl David suggested having additional assimilation requirements for permanent residents applying to be citizens, including passing a basic English test

Want to become a Singaporean?

Pass a basic English test and do mandatory community work, said Member of Parliament Darryl David.

This was what the MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC suggested in his maiden parliamentary speech last Tuesday. It is on top of existing citizenship criteria by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

Speaking to The New Paper last Thursday, the first-term MP explained that he is not trying to throw more obstacles into the citizenship application.

"The ICA has their own set of criteria when it comes to citizenship. We should continue to maintain these standards.

"Citizenship is not something that should be taken lightly or for granted... The aim is not to make the application process more onerous, but to help new citizens assimilate better," said Mr David.

The ICA said one of the eligibility criterion is to be a permanent resident (PR) for at least two years. 

Mr David's suggestion stems from personal observations at a community event involving new citizens in his GRC.

He spoke to them in English, but was met with puzzled faces.

"You can tell by their reactions that they're not quite following what you're saying. I spoke to grassroots leaders and asked around.

"The feedback, indeed, was that there are times when new citizens perhaps don't have as good a grasp of the language as they should," said Mr David, who also speaks Mandarin.

Mr Darryl David. 

Knowing basic English - the lingua franca of commerce and education among other things - is just one part of the equation to successful integration.

The other part is making sure that those who intend to sink roots here know Singapore's cultural norms, something that Mr David feels can be achieved through mandatory community work or even going through a course that is similar to our social studies curriculum.

Knowledge of a country is a requirement for citizenship in countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom.

This two-pronged approach will help identify PRs whose intentions are to make Singapore their home.

"I can't imagine why a PR, who is keen to make Singapore his home, would reject the opportunity to interact and work with Singaporeans.

"It's not just about money. We respect economic contribution, but can we have some community contribution too?" he said.


Kerala-born Samir Salim Neji, 45, thought Mr David's idea will be helpful for new citizens like he once was in 2004.

"I think it's a good suggestion that ensures new citizens integrate more into the society and understand Singapore's culture... People coming from different countries, like India and China, will then be able to relate (to Singaporeans).

"There will be more understanding," said the managing director of a software company.

Among the comments on Mr David's Facebook post on the subject were many who supported his suggestions and thanked him for bringing it up in Parliament.

On the English language, Mr Vincent K. Zen wrote: "The pioneer leadership had slogged to nurture a dual language society, with the emphasis on English as the working language.

"If we do not protect this legacy, a lifetime of work will come to naught."

Another user Evelyn de Silva went one step further and suggested a test.

She said: "Brilliant! I completely agree. There needs to be some form of testing required before gaining citizenship. Australia provides a booklet which they study and get tested on."

National University of Singapore's sociologist Tan Ern Ser said a language requirement will be "nice to have", but he is uncertain about its implementation.

"I reckon most potential new citizens wouldn't find it too difficult to meet this requirement.

"Still, we shouldn't impose a requirement which, perhaps, at least 10 per cent of Singaporeans cannot meet," he said, referring to Singaporeans who do not speak English.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Leong Chan-Hoong pointed out that integration is multifaceted and language forms just one component.

Instead, it is more important to focus on adherence to social norms and values, he said.

Dr Leong added that Singaporeans have difficulty differentiating new citizens and transient workers.

"The ability to speak English among new citizens will not help if the majority of the transient workers can't.

"Enforcement of social norms and etiquettes to both foreigners and locals alike, including new citizens and transient workers, will help ease tension," he said.