Disruption, deferment & renouncing citizenship: What can & cannot be done if you have NS liabilities.

It's not a simple matter of giving up citizenship to avoid NS.

Jonathan Lim | July 17, 2018 @ 05:31 pm


Ben Davis, a rising 17-year-old Singaporean footballer, has been the talk of town this week after news broke that he would not be allowed to defer his National Service obligations.

This news comes after it was reported that he signed a two-year contract with newly-promoted Premier League club Fulham, which lasts till 2020.

Davis is also on a two-year scholarship with Fulham, signed last July, and he will turn 18 this November.

The age limit for full-time NS enlistment is 18 years old.

In response to news of Mindef not approving Davis’ deferment, Davis’ father told Today that the family will consider letting Davis renounce his Singapore citizenship to fulfill his footballing dreams.

In the midst the furore, several terms have been thrown up, sometimes interchangeably, whilst arguing for and against the case of allowing Ben Davis to pursue his football career.

These terms include “Deferment”, “Disruption”, “Exemption” and even skipping NS by renouncing the Singapore citizenship.

We will explain what these terms mean.


The most common form of deferment, i.e. postponing one’s enlistment date, is deferment for studies. Points to note:

  • You can defer if you are pursuing full-time studies only up to a first education bar qualification (i.e. GCE ‘A’ Level, polytechnic diploma, or their equivalent)
  • Deferment will not be granted for degree courses, regardless of whether your studies have begun
  • Have to meet cut off age, e.g. 20 years old for Secondary 5 students who wish to pursue their ‘A’ Levels

A more notable form of deferment Singaporeans would associate Davis with would be deferment to pursue sports — something that was granted to swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zhengwen, and sailor Maximillian Soh.

This is what Mindef has said about sports deferment:

“Deferments are granted only to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore. In the last 15 years, only three have met this criteria.”

Channel NewsAsia reported that it has seen a note sent out to NS commanders which stated that Davis’ case was one of “personal pursuit” and that his signing of a contract with Fulham was “no different from the personal pursuits by other pre-enlistees like university studies or working in other professional fields.”

The note further stated that despite the EPL being popular with Singaporeans, “granting deferment to Davis would be unfair to other pre-enlistees who put their personal pursuits on hold to serve NS dutifully.”


Disruption generally happens when an NSF needs to disrupt his NS for further studies. There are a few criteria, notably:

“Disruption will only be granted for courses conducted by educational institutions that are funded by the Ministry of Education (e.g. Singapore Institute of Technology) or those that confer their own qualifications. For example, a full-time National Serviceman (NSF) will not be allowed disruption to pursue a foreign degree course conducted by the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) since the qualification is not conferred by SIM.”

That is to say disruption doesn’t generally apply to NSFs who want to study in overseas universities.

Notably, in 2015 Wang Yinchu was jailed 18 months for going AWOL just one month shy of his ORD date. He went AWOL in 2008 and left Singapore on Oct 8 2008 to pursue a medical degree at the University of Cambridge in Britain. He was AWOL for almost six years.

He had applied for a disruption of the remaining one month of service, but it was denied. He made appeals within SAF and through his MP but was rejected.

There is also a local medical disruption scheme for NSFs who have successfully gained admission into the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS), or the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Importantly though, NSFs disrupted under the LMDS have to return to complete the remainder of their full-time NS as Medical Officers (MOs) after successfully completing the Medical Officer Cadet Course (MOCC).


Exemption from NS is generally granted to enlistees who are medically unfit for service. There are no other known exemptions although the Enlistment Act does not spell out what the considerations for exemptions are. The Enlistment Act gives the Armed Forces Council the power to determine who gets exempted from NS.

The Armed Forces Council consists of the Minister of Defence, the Second Minister for Defence, the Minister of State for Defence, the Permanent Secretary for Defence, the Chief of Defence Force, the Chief of Army, the Chief of Air Force, and the Chief of Navy.

Renunciation of citizenship to avoid NS

To understand the mechanics of renunciation, you must first know that all male Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 16 ½ years and above are subjected to the Enlistment Act.

Next to renounce citizenship you have to meet these conditions:

  • Is or over the age of 21 years;
  • Of sound mind; and
  • Is also or is about to become a citizen of another country

For males, however, there is an extra step to renunciation found in the Constitution under Article 128(2)(b):

Therefore if you are subject to the Enlistment Act and have not fulfilled your NS liabilities, the Government may withhold your renunciation of citizenship, i.e you are still considered to be a Singaporean and will have to serve NS.

In 2017, Jonathan Tan pleaded guilty to two counts of remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit between Dec 22, 2004, and May 4, 2015. Tan had migrated to Canada in 2000 and obtained Canadian citizenship in 2005. 

According to the prosecution, Tan did not take concrete actions to renounce his citizenship. Enlistment letters asking Tan to register for NS were sent to his Singapore address between 2005 and 2006. Letters are sent to male Singapore citizens and permanent residents when they turn 16 ½ years-old to ask them to register for NS.

Tan’s father called CMPB in 2009 to inform CMPB that Tan wanted to renounce his citizenship. CMPB informed Tan’s father that Tan had to serve NS. Tan turned 20 in 2009.

In asking for a more lenient sentence, Tan’s lawyer argued that that as Singaporeans do not pay primary school fees, Tan did not benefit from completing his primary school education here.

District Judge Shawn Ho who presided over the case said that Tan benefited from the Singapore education system and has immediate family members still living here. Tan was ultimately jailed 16 weeks for defaulting on NS.

Top image from Singapore Army Facebook page

About Jonathan Lim

Jon is thankful that Singapore is interesting enough to keep a website like Mothership.sg up and running.

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