Balance approach to tackle foreign worker issue

The heated debate surrounding immigration has been growing as of late. On one side, people are arguing that there’s a need to limit the inflow of foreign workers into the country and clamp down on those who break the law. Others insist that such a crackdown would limit Brunei’s growth potential as foreign workers are contributing to the country with their skills and experience – in areas that the local workforce lacks.

Whichever side is right, it calls for a balanced approach. Perhaps the authorities could look into instituting a point-based immigration system, much like the one employed by Australia and the United Kingdom (UK), involving equal treatment for everyone wishing to move to Brunei for work.

Under the system, individuals must meet a set of criteria, which each attribute attached with a score, such as age, education, language skills and work experience. Visas are then awarded to those who have gained enough points.

Implementing such a system would solve two issues. Firstly, stop the inflow of low-skilled foreign workers, thereby protecting the labour market in key industries that have the potential to grow and absorb the local workforce. Restricting the labour supply will also drive up wages, making it more attractive for locals.

In light of a high unemployment rate (over 19,000 jobless), there is a pressing need to expand and prioritise jobs for the locals. Why hire a cook from abroad when our graduates meet the job requirements? Some may argue otherwise; but we must trust that our locals can perform the job as their foreign counterparts.

One local entrepreneur I know owns a company that has 80 per cent of local employees, and his business is doing well. Why can’t other businesses do the same? Instead of blaming locals, these entrepreneurs should ask themselves as to why locals quit their companies in the first place. Are their systems broken? Whatever the case, any prevailing negativity towards the local workforce must be examined.

Secondly, it would be fairer for highly-skilled and qualified expats to secure jobs in the country, especially in areas that are of high demand and can’t be met by the local workforce.

These jobs often revolve around engineering, higher education, energy, accountancy, hospitality, legal and IT. Their skills and knowledge are valuable in building a better future for Brunei.

The expats will also be respected by the locals, given the stringent point-based immigration system that selects the most qualified of individuals.

I believe that the point-based immigration system is a concept that should have been considered decades ago. There’s still time. While implementing the system may not solve everything, it is a start. It may even reduce the unemployment rate and unlock growth.

Above all, Brunei should prioritise Bruneians; but when expats have key roles to play in our country, we as Bruneians should accommodate and reward them for helping us to building a better future.

Mr Winslow Budiman