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This year is an iconic year for Singapore; and as it celebrates fifty years of independence, the nation as a whole has begun to reflect upon the sacrifices made in its journey to be one of the world’s most dynamic financial hubs.

Moving forward, as the nation begins to anticipate and look forward to its next fifty years, citizens have begun to voice out the kind of Singapore they hope to shape, contribute towards and be a part of. Of the many issues surfaced, immigration policy on foreign talent in Singapore has been one of the main points of discussion amongst politicians, with both the incumbent People’s Action Party (“PAP”) and opposition parties such as the Singapore Democratic Party (“SDP”), Singaporeans First Party (“SFP”) and the Singapore Democratic Alliance (“SDA”) actively debating over the issue.

So what does this mean for those who are contemplating leaving their home countries to explore job prospects in Singapore? We take a look at factors that potential job seekers will have to consider.

Job Opportunities

Certainly, with an enviable unemployment rate of 2%, which is well below the world’s average, Singapore is far from having an excess supply of labour to meet its economy’s demands; and job seekers can be assured that there is a wealth of opportunities for them, provided they have the right skills to match.

foreign-talent-in-singapore-job-opportunitiesHaving acknowledged that local citizens have increasingly felt the pressure from foreign job seekers, the Singapore government implemented the Fair Consideration Framework (“FCF”), which required employers to advertise job vacancies on the electronic Jobs Bank portal for 14 calendar days, before submitting an application for an Employment Pass (“EP”). The Jobs Bank Portal is exclusive to Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents only; and aims to give locals a slight advantage over foreign nationals, while encouraging employers to consider more local applicants.

In particular, EP holders have been under the most scrutiny, as this category of work pass catered for professionals who work in a managerial, executive or specialised job; and hold at least a good university degree, professional qualifications or possess specialist skills, directly competing with fresh graduates from local universities. Moreover, it is essential that fresh graduates are given ample opportunities, to kick-start their career and allow them to gain industry experience.

That said, potential job seekers must therefore be prepared to be able to offer above and beyond what local citizens are able to offer; and aspects such as job experience, leadership and managerial experience, or industry networks, may be crucial to gain a leg up over local candidates. Alternatively, they can assess if their skills are in demand for Singapore’s economy.

Potential applicants who have relevant skills listed will find it much easier to get their EP applications approved. After all, when queried on the government’s strategy in relation to its current immigration policy, Manpower Minister Mr Lim Swee Say explained, “Ideally, (a situation where) local and foreign PMEs are not competing for jobs in Singapore, (but one where) Singaporean PMEs are working together with foreign PMEs to help us compete for jobs with the rest of the world”.

Levelling the Playing Field

With globalisation removing the physical barriers for travel, employers now tap on the labour market of the world; and are not as confined to their domestic markets when seeking suitable employees. Unfortunately, this has also led to the proliferation of “degree mills” that churn out fake or sub-standard qualifications, which put local job seekers at a disadvantage.

Given that EP holders are the group of foreign job seekers whose qualifications are assessed as part of MOM’s review, MOM has announced that it would be implementing a more stringent review process on qualifications submitted for EP applications, based on global and country rankings, as well as enrolment standards.

foreign-talent-in-singapore-labour-immigrationIn addition, in recognition that foreign job seekers have created a downward pressure on salaries due to their willingness to accept lower remuneration packages (which is still markedly higher than what they would receive in their home country for a similar position due to comparatively lower standards of living), MOM has raised the minimum salary requirement for potential EP holders to a monthly wage of at least S$3,600 (effective 1 January 2017).

While this has meant higher manpower costs for employers, it is not necessarily a bad thing for EP holders, as they can look forward to higher remuneration packages, which will pay them the fair market rate. This could potentially pave the path for social mobility for them and their families.

Employers identified as “Double Weak” by the MOM, i.e. weak in their Singaporean core and weak in their commitment in fair consideration in hiring and developing Singaporeans, will also be subject to closer scrutiny by MOM. Part of this scrutiny includes the company’s hiring practices; and MOM may require “additional details, such as the number of Singaporeans who applied and were interviewed for the posts, and whether their existing Singaporean employees have been considered.”

In doing so, MOM hopes to incentivise employers to opt for training their existing employees, rather than giving away their jobs to new employees whose skills are more “updated”. This is especially important since the world’s economy is rapidly evolving and existing skill sets are increasingly going out of currency at a quicker pace than they used to in the past.

To help employers, the government has implemented the SkillsFuture and JobsFuture initiatives, which subsidises training for local employees; increase opportunities for career progression, or meet the needs of those who are making a mid-career switch. One such example is the Academy for Early Childhood Education, which will be set up in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, which targets mid-career switchers and stay-at-home mothers who are keen to join the sector.

Managing the inflow of foreigners

Besides EP holders, MOM has also turned its attention to their dependents, who can be brought into Singapore on a dependent’s pass (“DP”) or Long Term Visit Pass (“LTVP”), depending on their relationship with the EP holder. The table below shows who can qualify for a DP or LTVP:

Family member Pass type
Legally married spouse Dependant’s Pass
Unmarried children under 21, including those legally adopted Dependant’s Pass
Common-law spouse Long Term Visit Pass
Unmarried handicapped children above 21 Long Term Visit Pass
Unmarried step-children under 21 Long Term Visit Pass
(Only for EP holders earning at least $12,000)
Long Term Visit Pass

Table above extracted from MOM: Passes for family of Employment Pass holders

With effect from 1 January 2018, MOM has raised the minimum salary criteria from S$5,000 to S$6,000 for EP holders who wish to apply for a DP or LTVP. For EP holders who have already brought their families to Singapore, this means that they have more restricted job mobility, as a change in employers will mean that their family members will be subject to the new criteria.

That said, given the rising cost of living in Singapore – the average cost of renting a three-room flat range from S$1,700 to S$2,200 per month, the increase in the minimum salary criteria also ensures that EP holders are financially able to sustain the costs of accommodation and other living expenses for their dependents who arrive, particularly for those who intend to stay for prolonged periods.

Employers should also realise that this change would mean that EP holders will be looking for higher salaries, particularly if they have family members whom they wish to bring over. In conjunction with MOM’s more stringent review of qualifications submitted by EP holders and the implementation of quotas to restrict the ratio of foreign workers to local workers, both potential EPs and their prospective employers will find it more challenging.

How can I succeed with my EP Application?

employment-pass-approvalWith an estimated average of 800 EP applications submitted to the MOM every week and only 260 applications approved (i.e. an approximate 32.5% success rate), it is undeniable that the competition to obtain an EP application is keen in this tiny island-state. However, while there is no sure-fire way to ensure that one’s EP application is approved, there are means through which potential applicants can try to increase their chances of success, such as:

  • Obtaining written testimonials or references from supervisors whom they’ve worked with before
  • Ensuring that all the information and documents required for the EP application is in good order
  • Going for a preliminary interview with an experienced employment agency to understand what specific criteria MOM may assess

To learn more, read AsiaBiz’s articles about applying for an EP, or any other work pass.

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