SINGAPORE, Feb 21 — Amid concerns of a “brain drain” of skilled workers leaving Malaysia, an official study into Malaysians living in Singapore has found that two-thirds of those living and working here earn a gross salary of S$1,500 (RM5,356) to S$3,599 a month.

It also found that almost one in five Malaysian workers living here, or 18.5 per cent, earn S$3,600 to S$9,999 a month while the highest gross monthly salary is S$18,000 a month. About 1.2 per cent earn S$10,000 to S$17,999

The study, conducted in 2022, also said that 38 per cent of Malaysians here are employed. The rest are engaged in activities such as business, research and education, or are married to a Singaporean.


Of those in a job, nearly three in four, or 74 per cent, are skilled or semi-skilled, said the study put out on Monday (Feb 19) by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department, and the Ministry of Economy.

A majority, or 62 per cent, of Malaysians living here are male.

A media statement released by the Malaysian authorities about the study warned of the “adverse effects” of the brain drain as skilled workers leave the country.


Malaysians working in Singapore and Brunei were attracted by good job prospects, favourable working conditions, attractive salaries and an advantageous exchange rate.

A separate study released at the same time profiled Malaysians living in Brunei. That study was conducted in 2023.

The Singapore study did not indicate how many Malaysians living in Singapore were surveyed.

It is believed to the first study of its type. TODAY has asked the Malaysian authorities if any similar study has previously been produced.

The trends identified in the Brunei study were broadly similar to those in the Singapore one.

The study on the nation bordering the East Malaysian state of Sarawak showed that 92 per cent of Malaysians who live and work there are skilled or semi-skilled, and with 50 per cent of the Malaysian diaspora in Brunei being there for work.

Why it matters

The media statement attached to the study touched on the pros and cons of the findings.

One key finding is that, by and large, Malaysians have the option of selecting employment opportunities abroad.

“Recognition of Malaysian education on the global stage facilitates the upward mobility of individuals with a fundamental educational background in SPM, allowing them to progress from low-skilled positions to semi-skilled or skilled in Singapore and Brunei.”

The SPM is the Malaysian Certificate of Education, a national exam that all fifth-form secondary school students in Malaysia sit for, and can be seen as the equivalent of the O-Levels in Singapore.

However, the authorities underlined the “brain drain” problem, which could lead to “financial ramifications since a significant portion of those employed abroad originated from the Malaysian education system”.

They said that Malaysia must “reframe” the narrative around brain drain, and try to get those who had found work in other countries to eventually return.

“This shift in perspective means that the Malaysian diaspora will eventually return to Malaysia after a predetermined period, thereby contributing their acquired expertise and experiences back to the country.”

Last year, Malaysia’s former human resources minister V. Sivakumar said that 1.13 million out of 1.86 million Malaysians who migrated abroad were living in Singapore as of 2022, raising questions of how talent can be retained and drawn back to Malaysia.

CNA reported last October that the weaker Malaysian ringgit compared to the Singapore dollar has led to more Johor residents seeking jobs in Singapore.

Malaysians living in Singapore

• Of the 62 per cent of Malaysians living here but were not employed, 47.4 per cent were there for business

• Another 23.1 per cent were here for research and training, 17.1 per cent for education and 10.1 per cent were married to a Singaporean

• The study did not indicate if there was any overlap between those married to a Singaporean and, for example, working here

• Age wise, 20 per cent were below 20 years old, 48 per cent between 25 and 39 years old, and 32 per cent were 40 years old and above

• The racial breakdown was 46.2 per cent Chinese, 40.2 per cent Malay, 11.3 per cent Indian

The main source states were: 38.3 per cent from Johor, the closest state geographically to Singapore, followed by 12.3 per cent from Kedah and 9 per cent from Perak.

Malaysians residing in and working in Singapore

• Skilled and semi-skilled workers formed the majority of working Malaysians residing in Singapore, with 39 per cent and 35 per cent respectively

• Another 26 per cent were low skilled

• Among those employed, 24 per cent were clerical support workers, 20 per cent were professionals, 15 per cent were plant and machine operators and assemblers, 15 per cent were technicians and associate professionals, and 12 per cent were service and sales workers

• Nearly nine in 10 or 89.4 per cent of them were on full-time permanent contract, while 10.6 per cent were on other arrangements.

• On their longer-term careers, 62 per cent planned to keep working in Singapore, 20 per cent did not plan to do so, while 18 per cent were not sure ― TODAY