A DECISION by Standard Chartered Bank regional chief executive Ray Ferguson to take up Singapore citizenship underscores the growing allure of Asia, especially Singapore, as a good place to live, work and play, say human resource experts.
But they add that it is harder to tell whether more foreign senior executives will take Mr Ferguson’s cue and opt for a Singapore passport, as the citizenship issue is often a complicated one.
Mr Ferguson, 47, has lived in Asia for more than 15 years, six of them in Singapore. He told The Straits Times over the weekend that his decision last month to become a citizen was “a commitment to Singapore, which has been home for a long time for me and my family”.
The British-born banker lives here with his wife and their four sons.
For foreigners working here, the Republic is seen as a safe place to raise a family, with a smooth commute to work. It is also situated in one of the world’s fastest growing regions where business prospects are plentiful.
“They believe that if you want to be in Asia, Singapore is the best place to be. This is a plus for Singapore and an endorsement of us as a country,” said Amrop Hever Group director Tan Soo Jin, who has spent more than 30 years as an executive search consultant placing very senior people.
A growing number of these top executives have also been based in Asia for a number of years and are increasingly familiar with the region.
Mr Phillip Overmyer, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC), said: “The few people I know who have taken up citizenship – they like it here, they are familiar with this place, and they very much want to live here for the rest of their lives.”
“It is about long-term thinking for your children and Singapore’s future is very bright,” argued CIMB economist Song Seng Wun, who is planning to swop his Malaysian passport for a Singapore one. When Mr Song departed Kuala Lumpur for Singapore in 1990, he was a “hungry young man” looking to earn enough here so that he would be able to retire comfortably in Malaysia.
His dreams have changed. Mr Song and his wife, a Singaporean, want to raise their children here.
There could be other pull factors.
Singapore has one of the lowest personal tax rates in the world – at 20 per cent – said KPMG Singapore’s head of international executive services, Mr Ooi Boon Jin.
United States citizens who work here must still pay taxes to the US government, so this could also weigh in their decision to give up US citizenship, said SICC’s Mr Overmyer.
But there are reasons holding back some foreigners from taking up Singapore citizenship.
One issue could be that they cannot hold dual citizenship.
Ms Deborah Sawyer, managing partner at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson Singapore, told The Straits Times that she and her husband are considering taking up permanent residency here. But being a citizen was different “as I do not wish to renounce my US citizenship”, she added.
Another factor could be the issue of sons having to go for national service, a point raised by Mr Peter Douglas, Asia-Pacific council member of the Alternative Investment Management Association, even as he noted that “Singapore has been very good to my family and my business.”
Headhunters also cited another possible drawback for these senior executives – that education for the children is often free or cheaper in their home countries.