Singapore is overhauling visa rules to attract foreign workers and ease a tight labor market that’s contributing to wage and price pressures.
The new rules will allow foreigners earning a minimum S$30,000 ($21,431) per month to secure a five-year work pass, with a provision to allow their dependents to seek employment, according to the Ministry of Manpower. Exceptional candidates in sports, arts, science and academia who don’t meet the salary criteria are also eligible for the long-term visa under the so-called Overseas Networks and Expertise (ONE) pass that will take effect Jan. 1.
“Both businesses and talent are searching for safe and stable places to invest, live and work in. Singapore is such a place,” Manpower Minister Tan See Leng told reporters on Monday. “It is therefore timely to leverage on this opportunity to cement Singapore’s position as a global hub for talent.”
The announcement is the latest in a string of decisions this year that are meant to address a still-tight labor market, as well as attract international business to drive the city-state’s ambitions as a global financial hub, after a pandemic-era slump in white-collar workers from abroad. Many parts of the economy have seen pay increases this year to lure talent, stoking fears wage-cost escalation will add to headline inflation that’s touched a 14-year-high and force the central bank to tighten monetary policy further.
Effective Sept. 1 next year, Singapore plans to exempt jobs, comparable to those held by top 10% of Employment Pass holders, from the need to be advertised locally before hiring foreigners under a system called Fair Consideration Framework. The duration of FCF advertisements, where applicable, will be halved to 14 days, the ministry said, adding that processing time for all EP applications will be cut to 10 business days from the current maximum three weeks.
The rule change will help the city-state better compete with rival business hubs like Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates and catch up to Australia and the UK, which have similar global talent visas. More than 700 finance professionals moved to Singapore from Hong Kong last year, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters.
The UAE this year made it easier for expatriates to work without being sponsored by an employer, as well as switched to a Saturday-Sunday weekend to align the country with global markets as it seeks to win more businesses, with Dubai positioning itself as a crypto hub.
Singapore has had to grapple with especially challenging labor-market dilemmas as the nation lives with Covid and the need to recharge sectors like hospitality and food and beverage that suffered disproportionately amid social mobility restrictions that are finally all but canceled.
A key gauge that measures the imbalance between demand and supply of workers rose earlier this year to the highest level since 1998. That trend is a risk to productivity in the economy, which officials expect will grow by 3%-4% this year, narrower than the 3%-5% seen before — a pace that will be among the slowest in Southeast Asia.
The country is witnessing an easing of labor market tightness, Minister Tan said, adding that labor supply in manufacturing and construction, among others, have gone back almost to pre Covid levels.
The problems are at the high end of the income ladder — where Singapore wants to attract top global talent particularly in next-generation, technology-heavy industries — as well as the lower end. The government fielded criticism during the pandemic that treatment and broader policies for migrant workers primarily employed in the construction industry needed a reboot.
“This is an age where talent makes all the difference to a nation’s success,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his Aug. 21 National Day Rally speech. “We need to focus on attracting and retaining top talent, in the same way we focus on attracting and retaining investments.”
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