Many countries with populations larger than Singapore's are "going out of their way" to attract global talent, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said in Parliament on Sep. 12.
Apart from Germany and the UK, as mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally, other countries which have launched talent visas include Australia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Malaysia and Thailand.
Singapore cannot stand still
These countries are cognisant of the fact that when they attract talent, they attract more businesses in turn and grow higher-value activities while those that do not stagnate or fall behind, Tan added.
"In this race, Singapore is coming from a position of strength, but we cannot stand still," he said.
Singapore is therefore making enhancements to its work pass framework, as part of its "offensive" for global talent, Tan added.
"These are the rainmakers of the world, whom we hope to bring to Singapore, so that we can tap on their networks, we can grow teams around them and learn from their expertise, and through these efforts, we can level up our industries and workforce."
Tan made his comments in a ministerial statement delivered in response to multiple questions asked by Members of Parliament (MPs) about the implementation of the Overseas Networks & Expertise (ONE) Pass and its implications for the work force in Singapore.
What are the enhancements being made to the work pass framework?
According to the minister, the following four "targeted" enhancements are being implemented.
1. Introducing the ONE Pass
The first of these is the introduction of a new work pass which will allow pass holders to stay and work in Singapore for five years, compared to the two years provided by a Tech Pass, Tan said.
The ONE Pass holder will be able to start, operate, and work for multiple companies in Singapore at any one time.
In addition, the pass is open to candidates from all sectors, unlike the Tech Pass, which is limited to the tech sector.
To apply for the pass, the applicant will either need to earn a fixed monthly salary of at least S$30,000 from a single employer, comparable to the top 5 per cent of Employment Pass (EP) holders, or have outstanding achievements in arts and culture, sports, and research and academia, Tan added.
Spouses of ONE Pass holders are also able to obtain a Letter of Consent (LOC) to work.
The longer duration of this new pass, as well as the LOC for spouses, he added, is meant to give top talent additional assurance in deciding whether to come to Singapore.
These are key factors decided by top talent when they decide where to go, Tan highlighted, quoting businesses.
He noted that many other jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, the UAE and the UK offer work privileges for dependants.
Safeguards to be instituted at two levels
Tan also said that safeguards would be put in place at two levels. The first of these is careful vetting of all applications for the ONE pass.
This includes checks to discover potential cases of false salary declarations, scrutinising applications from companies with a limited track record, and asking for more documents to verify that the salary declared will in fact be paid.
For candidates seeking to convert from an existing Employment Pass, the government will scrutinise their Personal Income Tax filings with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS).
As for overseas candidates, they will have their company’s market capitalisation and revenue assessed.
The second safeguard will involve engaging ONE Pass holders during their time in Singapore, so that the government will be up to date with their professional activities and annual income.
This will factor into the government's assessment on their eligibility for renewal.
2. Pegging the benchmark for existing schemes to the top 10 per cent of Employment Pass holders
For this enhancement, Tan highlighted that the move includes exemption from the Fair Consideration
Framework (FCF) job advertising requirement, as well as the Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS).
The new benchmark does not mean that policies are being relaxed however, he added.
Instead, by setting the benchmark at the top 10 per cent of Employment Pass (EP) holders, the threshold for exemption is increased from S$20,000 to S$22,500, he pointed out.
The aim is to provide greater clarity for existing schemes, greater predictability for businesses and ensure that existing frameworks continue to cover the vast majority of EP applications, even as wages move up, Tan said.
The minister also noted that the 10 per cent of EP holders consist mostly of senior management and senior professionals.
Such staff would therefore have already been subjected to stringent checks by companies.
"It is also more likely that head-hunters or search firms will play a role to fill these jobs, and it is not typical for these roles to be filled by advertising on job portals like MyCareersFuture.sg alone," he said.
Providing such an exemption is therefore not a major concession and instead sends a signal to global companies that they can hire key staff with greater certainty here, he said.
3. Adjusting the FCF job advertising duration from 28 days to 14 days
Here, the aim is to ensure that a broad base of businesses can access complementary foreign workers, especially in areas of skills shortages, according to the minister.
As of Sep. 1, 2022, the FCF job advertising duration has been restored to its original duration of 14 days, down from 28.
In explaining the changes, Tan noted that when the FCF job advertising requirement was first introduced in 2014, the duration had been set at 14 days as data from MyCareerFutures.sg, showed that the majority of job applications are submitted within the first two weeks of a job posting.
14 days was therefore an "optimal" balance between giving jobseekers time to look for a job, and ensuring that companies could fill their vacancies in response to pressing business needs, Tan said.
This duration was then increased to 28 days during the Covid-19 pandemic, as there were less job openings than jobseekers during this period.
The ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons reached a low of 0.55 in June 2020, the minister added.
The increase was therefore done to give local jobseekers more time to respond to job openings and employers more time to evaluate the increased number of applications.
Since then, the situation has reversed with the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons now standing at 2.4.
Given that there now more job openings than jobseekers, companies have given the feedback that the 28-day requirement is causing them to lose good candidates because they are unable to offer them employment contracts quickly, Tan noted.
4. Introducing a five-year EP option for experienced tech professionals in vocations with labour shortage
As for the last enhancement, Tan said that the option of a five-year EP will be provided for experienced tech professionals in vocations with a shortage of labour.
In explaining why this option has been limited to tech roles, Tan explained that there is an "acute" shortage of talent globally.
The minister then clarified:
"But that it is not to say that other sectors cannot benefit. Almost all sectors require tech talent to drive transformation. This includes the financial services and manufacturing industries, as well as up-and-coming sustainability sectors."
In reiterating the importance of the enhancements, Tan said:
"Singapore cannot be playing a defensive game when it comes to talent. The better we are at attracting and retaining the best talent, local and global, the higher the chances of securing our economic future, and to continually be able to generate good jobs for all Singaporeans."
Screenshot via MCI/YouTube