BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s population shrank 5.2 percent year-on-year due to a continuing exodus of foreign workers over the past two years.
The total number of residents dropped from 453,600 in 2020 to 429,999 in 2021 — the second year in a row the population count fell due to fewer foreign nationals.
Brunei citizens and permanent residents accounted for 82.2 percent of the total population in 2021, with foreigners making up 17.8 percent.
In 2020, Brunei reported the first year-on-year dip in migrant workers since records began, owing to COVID-19 border closures that have been in place for 19 months.
The Ministry of Home Affairs stopped issuing work permits to foreigners as part of COVID-19 control measures in March last year, and only workers deemed essential to the economy have been allowed into the country.
Many expatriates also left the country as their contracts expired, according to the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics (DEPS).
Released on Monday, the preliminary 2021 census data showed an 8.6 percent decrease in the number of foreign residents year-on-year.
The decline in foreign labour also comes after the government introduced a policy two years ago which limits the number of foreign workers employers are able to hire in specific sectors.
Employers are required to prioritise the recruitment of Bruneians with the introduction of the local and foreign workforce ratio.
Locals outnumbered foreign workers in the private sector for the first time in 2019, according to the Annual Census of Enterprises.
Brunei moving towards an ageing population
Initial results from the latest census showed that Brunei’s population has grown 9.3 percent over the last decade, adding 36,627 people.
The census also suggests that Brunei is heading towards an ageing population as there were fewer people belonging to the 0-12 age group, while the number of seniors rose.
The number of children in the 0-12 age group dwindled 10.7 percent over the past decade, implying falling birth rates. There were also fewer teenagers aged 12 to 17, dropping 10.3 percent of the population.
On the other hand, the elderly population aged 60 and above soared by a staggering 93.4 percent compared to the 2011 census. Senior citizens now comprise 10.1 percent of the total population.
In terms of population by district, all four districts added more residents.
Brunei-Muara district increased its population share to 72.3 percent as opposed to 71.2 percent in 2011.
Belait still had the second highest number of inhabitants despite seeing a fall in its population proportion from 15.4 percent to 14.5 percent.
Tutong and Temburong made up 11.1 per cent and 2.2 per cent of the overall population, respectively.
The majority (52.6%) of the population were men.
DEPS said the preliminary count is subject to further revisions as the third stage of the census will take place from the end of October to December.
The department introduced the e-Census this year, allowing households to fill out the population and housing census online. About 47,000 households or 57 percent opted to complete the census questionnaire online.
The census is conducted every 10 years to provide a new benchmark for Brunei’s population and housing profile, and helps shape public policy on education, healthcare, housing, land use and transport.
The article was updated on Oct 22, 2021.