An expatriate reflects on why she’s hung onto the city-state’s travel document, and citizenship, after years abroad.
(Bloomberg Markets) — Hi. My name is Divya Balji. I’m 40 years old, and I’ve never exercised my democratic right to vote.
A big part of that has to do with my leaving Singapore as a teenager. It seemed irresponsible to vote for the next government without having lived and worked in the city-state as an adult. Eighteen years in Toronto, one four-year job stint in Singapore and five general elections later, I still haven’t cast a ballot. Inopportunely, I moved back to Singapore the month after the September 2015 elections and left before the July 2020 round. And while I could have registered to vote in 2020 as an overseas elector, we were living in the topsy-turvy world of the Covid-19 pandemic, and I missed the deadline.
Many have asked why I never chose to become Canadian. I’ve lived in Canada for most of my adult life, I’ve paid Canadian income taxes, I married a Canadian, I understand Canadian politics—and who doesn’t want the highly coveted Canadian passport?
Not me. To become a Canadian, I’d have to renounce my Singapore citizenship—the country doesn’t allow dual nationality. And believe it or not, holding on to my Singapore passport is way more valuable to me. The document is not only a symbol of life in a peaceful, vibrant and rich country of immigrants but also the badge of a Singaporean diaspora whose members are in effect citizens of the world.
Take the ease of travel. Singaporeans can enter 193 global destinations visa-free, earning the Singapore passport the crown as the world’s most powerful, according to one immigration consulting group. As a Singapore citizen, I can travel to China, Indonesia and Vietnam (to name a few) without a visa. Canadians, on the other hand, need permits to enter those countries.
But there’s more to it than travel. There’s also the ease of employment, both in Singapore and elsewhere. Work permit applications for a Singapore passport holder never quite raise eyebrows the way paperwork for citizens of some other countries does. Then there’s the ease of homeownership (if you can afford it) in a politically and economically stable country that’s had a red-hot property market for years. Foreigners buying any private property now have to pay a tax of 60%, while Singaporeans are exempt from the tax on their first property.
But perhaps the biggest and most important reason of them all for keeping my Singapore passport: family. Like a lot of other Singaporeans who’ve moved away, I have family who stayed. In some admittedly irrational way, it feels like forfeiting this meaningful travel document would mean saying goodbye to them all. So, give up the Singapore passport? Not me. Not yet.
Based in Toronto, Balji is the managing editor for breaking news in the Americas at Bloomberg News.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.