Singapore has been a highly regulated multi-ethnic city since colonial times. Politics and public campaigns are based on the official multiracial CMIO model (Chinese, Malay, Indian, and “Others”), together with the establishment of four official languages (Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English). However, Singapore is extremely dependent on labour migrants for its continuing economic maintenance and development. Most of this dependency is controlled by a restrictive work permit system for low skilled workers in manufacturing, construction, and domestic services (while there are also large numbers of high skilled foreign workers and students). In recent years, Singapore’s non-resident workforce increased by 170% – from 248,000 in 1990 to 670,000 in 2006. UN estimates suggest that international migrants comprise over 1.9 million (40.7%) of Singapore’s total population of 4.8 million. The majority of them come, via bilateral agreements, from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Myanmar and Thailand. Old migration streams (especially from China and Malaysia) conditioned by colonial politics continue to be important alongside the recent arrivals from elsewhere. A major government concern in Singapore is to ensure that the foreign worker population remains temporary. Diversity is conditioned by the ambiguous categories of citizen-noncitizen and resident-non-resident which are charged with identity politics, while ‘use-and-discard’ state measures prevent immigrants from gaining any significant foothold in Singaporean society.
In Singapore, the GLOBALDIVERCITIES project concentrates on the area of Jurong West (pop. 264,000 in 2009). With an estimated 1000 factories as well as shipyards, it is a well-known neighbourhood of mixed immigrant concentration. Tens of thousands of foreign (far more male than female) workers live in designated dormitories. Important public spaces for research are Jurong Point Shopping Centre, the Public Library and numerous surrounding hawker centres (comprised of food stalls from all over Asia).