The Singapore government has projected that by 2030, Singapore may need some 150,000 more foreign workers in health care, construction and as maids.
The bulk - about 100,000 - will be needed as maids. About 15,000 will be in health care and the rest in construction.
The increase is due to the ageing population and increased building of transport infrastructure and flats.
The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) made these estimates in an occasional paper released yesterday, noting that the figures "are not targets".
This follows an NPTD paper in July which gave an overview of population issues, and a Ministry of Trade and Industry paper in September on the economic importance of foreign workers.
In yesterday's paper, NPTD noted that health care, construction and domestic work "are sectors which primarily serve the needs of Singaporeans".
As the population ages, more workers are needed in hospitals or for nursing care.
NPTD estimates a demand for 91,000 health-care workers in 2030.
Of this, 28,000 are projected to be foreign health-care workers. Last year, there were 13,000 foreign workers in this sector out of a total of 50,000.
The expected demand for foreign construction workers was less clear-cut. On the one hand, the government is expanding the rail network and building more flats and health-care facilities.
On the other hand, the industry's productivity push should reduce the number of workers needed.
Demand for foreign construction workers on low-skilled work permits could thus range from last year's level of 250,000 to a high of 300,000 by 2030, said NPTD.
In the shorter term - before productivity measures fully kick in - the number could rise to 280,000 in the next three years.
Singapore Contractors Association Limited president Ho Nyok Yong found the short-term estimate reasonable, but thought 2030 was "far too long" in the future to think about.
Demand from government plans may be predictable, but "private building follows the market", he said. High demand could outstrip productivity gains, meaning a need for more workers.
As for foreign domestic workers, NPTD expects demand to swell to a total of 300,000 by 2030, up from the 198,000 maids here last year.
There were 208,400 maids in June this year.
NPTD's projection is based on an expected rise in resident households with young or elderly members, as well as those where both spouses work.
These account for most of the demand for maids. Of all resident households with at least one maid last year, seven in 10 had both spouses working and three-quarters had young and/or elderly family members.
More elderly, non-working households are also hiring maids. Twelve per cent of such households had maids last year, up from 6 per cent in 2000.
But even if demand goes up, it might not necessarily be met.
The supply of foreign domestic workers to Singapore could be constrained by growing demand for them elsewhere, said NPTD.
Source countries might impose new requirements and restrictions on citizens who become maids. And job opportunities in those countries could improve.
Though foreign worker inflows have caused public unhappiness in recent years, this has rarely extended to maids, noted some political observers.
If anything, the projected higher demand for maids could assure the public "that the government is recognising that households do need maids", said Singapore Management University assistant professor of law Eugene Tan.
More broadly, NPTD's paper is unlikely to spark further unhappiness as "it deals with three sectors that are not particularly attractive employment or career-wise for Singaporeans", said National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser.
But he acknowledged that some might well see the paper "as another attempt to justify letting in more foreigners, and to set higher targets, despite the paper reiterating that it reports only projections and not targets".
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