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Malaysia’s ‘Brain Drain’ Is Real, and Singapore Is the Destination of Choice

Singapore's CBD at Marina Bay | Image Credit: Wikipedia
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Singapore, with an economy and global reputation that far outstrips that of its northern neighbour, remains a popular destination for Malaysia’s skilled workers.

An often-heard lament in Malaysia in recent years is that the cost of virtually everything is going up (particularly imported goods, with the continually weaking ringgit plaguing shelf prices), but salaries remain stuck in neutral.

Faced with this unpleasant reality, many of Malaysia’s skilled and semi-skilled workers are seeking greener pastures – places where they can get better pay for their knowledge and abilities.

Amid growing concerns over the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon, a comprehensive study on Malaysians residing in Singapore has provided valuable insights into their socio-economic landscape. The study, conducted in 2022, sheds light on various aspects of the Malaysian diaspora in Singapore, highlighting both the opportunities and challenges they encounter.

According to the study, approximately two-thirds of Malaysians living and working in Singapore earn a gross monthly salary ranging from S$1,500 to S$3,599. Furthermore, nearly one in five Malaysian workers, comprising 18.5%, earn between S$3,600 and S$9,999 per month, with the highest reported gross monthly salary reaching S$18,000. A small percentage, around 1.2%, earn between S$10,000 and S$17,999.

Infographic courtesy of Today

The demographic breakdown reveals that the majority of Malaysians in Singapore are employed, constituting 38% of the total population surveyed. Those not engaged in formal employment are involved in diverse activities such as business ventures, research, education pursuits, or are married to Singaporean nationals.

Significantly, the study underscores the predominance of skilled or semi-skilled workers among the Malaysian workforce in Singapore, comprising nearly three-quarters (74%) of those in employment. This underscores the valuable contribution of Malaysian talent to various sectors of Singapore’s economy.

While the study reflects a predominantly male demographic among Malaysians in Singapore, with 62% being male, it also raises pertinent questions regarding the phenomenon of ‘brain drain’ and its potential adverse effects on Malaysia’s economy and workforce.

The report highlights the attractiveness of Singapore as a destination for skilled Malaysian professionals, driven by factors such as promising career prospects, favourable working conditions, competitive salaries, and an advantageous exchange rate. However, it also underscores the urgent need for Malaysia to address the challenges posed by the outflow of skilled workers and devise strategies to retain and repatriate talent.

In an effort to address the issue, Malaysian authorities emphasise the importance of reframing the narrative and implementing measures to encourage the eventual return of Malaysian expatriates. The goal is to harness their acquired expertise and experiences for the benefit of the nation’s development and growth. However, that has proven easier said than done. Many Malaysians, once they leave, never return.

The study also provides insights into the diverse reasons for Malaysians’ presence in Singapore, with a significant proportion engaged in business ventures, research, training, education, or matrimonial ties. Additionally, the demographic profile reveals a varied age distribution, with significant representation across different age groups and racial backgrounds.

Infographic courtesy of Today

Looking ahead, the findings underscore the need for collaborative efforts between Malaysia and Singapore to address the multifaceted challenges posed by the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon and foster sustainable solutions for talent retention and development.

Reports from Today and CNA contributed to this article.

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