Jonathan Pearlman - Straits Times Indonesia
Sydney. As the number of Australians moving abroad surged to record highs in recent years, Singapore has emerged as their fastest-rising destination.
A so-called stampede from Australia saw more than 88,000 departures last year, nearly double the number a decade earlier. About half of those who left were Australian-born.
At the same time, the number of people moving to Australia dropped 9 percent to 127,458 in the past year, raising the ratio of departures to arrivals to a record level.
One of the most striking trends has been departures for Singapore, which overtook Hong Kong to become the fourth-biggest destination for Australians last year. Singapore was previously fifth.
Almost 20,000 Australians left for Singapore in the past three years, according to figures on long-term departures released by the Department of Immigration. Nearly two-thirds of them were born in Australia. Long-term departures refer to people who are leaving for residency, long-term or permanent stays.
Professor Graeme Hugo at the University of Adelaide, who is one of Australia's leading population experts, said the numbers leaving for Singapore had risen dramatically and reflected changes in the regional marketplace and growing ties between the two countries.
"Singapore is the standout, particularly compared to other Asian countries. It is quite striking," he told The Straits Times.
The leading destinations for Australians are Britain, New Zealand and the United States. But the rate at which they are heading to Singapore has far outpaced that to the three leading destinations.
Many Aussies in Singapore "likely to keep their citizenship."
Ten years ago, 2,325 Australians left for Singapore. Since then, the number has jumped to 5,431 in 2008, 6,428 in 2009 and 6,952 last year.
Despite a mining boom and a strong economy at home, an increasing number of Australians have left for jobs and promotion opportunities in Asia and elsewhere.
Last year, the total number of long-term departures rose to 88,461, compared with 46,521 a decade earlier.
Prof Hugo said that the flows between Australia and Singapore had changed dramatically in recent years.
"In the past, the flow was mainly to Australia, but now the growth of the Singapore economy and Singapore's population slowing have made it more of a destination," he said.
"The linkages between the countries have always been strong. There are large numbers of Singaporean students in Australia. It creates linkages which flow in both directions."
But Prof Hugo noted that many of the Australians who move to Singapore were likely to retain their Australian citizenship and would eventually move to another country or return to Australia.
He said he is planning to conduct further research on the reasons for the stampede to Singapore and will discuss with the Singapore Government a joint study of the phenomenon.
Australia has, in recent years, been reducing its immigration intake from record highs and developing more targeted skilled migrant programs amid concern about the growing populations of its big cities.
About 1,100 Singaporeans settled permanently in Australia last year, with another 3,746 arriving as temporary residents - mostly skilled workers arriving for up to four years. Another 16,126 Singaporeans arrived on student visas.
While the recent trend has surprised demographers, it has come as little surprise to Australians living in Singapore.
A Queensland-born Singaporean permanent resident, Peter Breitkreutz, 45, said he has been living in Singapore for six years and has no intentions of leaving.
Breitkreutz, a vice-president at Citibank, recently bought a flat in Sengkang, where he lives with his Shanghai-born wife and two sons, who were born in Singapore.
"We are in Singapore for the long run," he said. "We planted our roots. The obvious attractions for anyone coming from Australia or a Western culture are the order, the education and safety and that everything is convenient.
"Becoming a citizen has entered my mind. The only issue is that Singapore does not allow dual citizenship. I couldn't see myself giving up my Australian passport at this stage."
He added: "By becoming (permanent residents) and making that plunge, we have invested in an apartment, and do almost everything citizens can do. We have no real plans to move back to Australia."
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.
Jonathan Pearlman - Straits Times Indonesia