Employment Pass Criteria Refined to Strengthen Singapore Workforce

The latest measures undertaken by the Singapore Government in safeguarding the competitiveness of Singapore’s workforce include evaluating additional factors for EP applications such as number of foreign-employees/staff within a firm, and whether it has done its best in hiring Singaporeans. Companies that nurture their “Singaporean core” will find it easier to bring in foreign experts, who can in turn nurture local talents.


Singapore’s workforce today is made up of two-thirds (2/3) locals, and one-third (1/3) foreigners. Recently, a speech by Mr. Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower (MOM) emphasized that the country stands a better chance of beating the competition for better investments and jobs if Singapore’s local manpower and foreign manpower work together as “one Singapore Workforce”, rather than two competing workforces – 2/3 versus 1/3.

That is because at the end of the day, the real competition for Singapore is out there globally and not here locally.

Recent Observations by MOM

However, while foreigners only account for 21 per cent of jobs within the EP salary range – $3,300 and above – the Ministry has observed unhealthy “pockets of EP concentration” in some companies, industry segments and locations.

As a result, some Singaporeans perceive themselves as the minority in their workplaces. In some instances, this has also led to the perception that Singapore is too liberal when it comes to EPs, or worse, practice discrimination against local PMETs.

Mr. Lim clarified that Singapore is not anti-foreigners, but rather, the behavior of some of these companies has intensified the ‘local-foreign’ divide in Singapore’s workforce.

Changes to EP Application Process

As such, in a bid to strengthen the global competitiveness of Singapore’s workforce, MOM will be refining the application process for Employment Passes (EPs).

Currently, individual-related criteria such as the qualifications, experience and salary of the applicant are evaluated. Moving forward, three additional company-related factors will be considered in EP applications as follows:

  • the proportion of Singaporeans hired by the company compared to the industry average;
  • the company’s commitment in hiring and developing Singaporeans; and
  • the company’s contributions to Singapore’s economy and society

In addition, the employment watchdog, Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), will be given a bigger role to monitor and advise MOM on the firms that should be placed on a black-sheep watch list. Currently, about 100 firms have been identified, with over half of their jobs that pay above $3,300 a month being filled by foreigners.
The Minister also cautioned that these employers might also have broken the law by not making “reasonable efforts to provide fair employment opportunities” to Singaporeans. These 100 cases will be reviewed again in six months.

Pointers for Employers

Under the revised work pass application processes for EPs, the Government has widened its focus from evaluating the qualities of just the applicant to both the qualities of the employer and the applicant.

Companies are encouraged to continue transferring capability and expertise to local PMETs, and giving them exposure and opportunities for higher responsibilities locally, regionally and globally.

The Government will also continue to recognize, partner and assist these companies that pay significant attention in valuing and nurturing local talents.
On the other hand, companies that keep up its foreign hires without concrete plans to nurture their Singaporean staff may face difficulties in renewing and obtaining EPs. The curtailment of work pass privileges may in turn have adverse consequences on their continued operations and growth in Singapore.

Ms. Jacqueline Low, COO of Hawksford Singapore, said, “It is encouraging to see that steps are taken to strengthen the unity of Singapore’s workforce, and ease any “2/3 versus 1/3” sentiments on the ground. With a cohesive team, organisations can build healthier working environments and focus on driving growth and greater productivity.”