On 12 September 2022, the Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng delivered a ministerial statement setting out further information on the previously announced work pass framework enhancements aimed at better attracting top global talent and experienced tech professionals in areas of skills shortage.
Overview of measures to enhance work pass framework
In his statement, the Minister provided a recapitulation of the four targeted enhancements to the work pass framework:
- A new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass (“ONE Pass”) for talent earning at least S$30,000 in fixed monthly salary, comparable to the top 5% of Employment Pass (“EP”) holders, or with outstanding achievements in arts and culture, sports, and research and academia.
- A new benchmark pegged to the top 10% of EP holders for existing schemes, namely the exemption from the Fair Consideration Framework (“FCF”) job advertising requirement and the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) Complementarity Assessment Framework (“COMPASS”), as well as the salary criterion for the Personalised Employment Pass.
- Restoring the FCF job advertising duration from 28 days to 14 days from 1 September 2022, and improving the processing time of EP applications.
- The option of a five-year EP to experienced professionals filling tech occupations on the COMPASS Shortage Occupation List.
The Minister explained that these are highly targeted enhancements aimed at attracting top talent in diverse fields, and experienced tech professionals in areas of skills shortages. They build on Singapore’s efforts to improve the complementarity and diversity of the foreign workforce and aim to build significant first-mover and sustainable competitive advantages in new growth areas to keep Singapore ahead of the competition.
Overseas Networks and Expertise Pass (ONE Pass)
Similar to the Tech.Pass, the ONE Pass is a personalised pass that allows the holder to concurrently start, operate, and work for multiple companies in Singapore at any one time. However, compared to the Tech.Pass, it is open to candidates from all sectors, and is not limited to the tech sector alone. It has a longer duration of five years, instead of two years. Spouses of ONE Pass holders are able to obtain a Letter of Consent (“LOC”) to work. There are no restrictions on the occupations that LOC holders can work in, and this is generally the same approach for all other work pass holders, including dependants working in Singapore. The longer duration of the ONE Pass, as well as the LOC for spouses, is meant to give top talent the additional assurance they need when deciding whether to come to Singapore. Based on feedback received by MOM from businesses, these are key factors top talent consider before deciding where to go.
Regarding candidates who do not need to meet the salary criterion of S$30,000, MOM is looking at individuals who have demonstrated exceptionally high levels of achievement in the fields of arts, sports, science, and academia, who can help Singapore push new frontiers, draw in greater investments and interest to grow the local ecosystem, and most importantly, create a very diverse range of opportunities for Singaporeans. In the case of sports, for example, such candidates would include current and former world-class top-ranked athletes who may wish to set up their commercial operations or training bases in Singapore, from which local athletes, coaches, and sports ecosystem can benefit. MOM will work with sector agencies that are experts in these domains, such as the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Arts Council, Ministry of Education, and National Research Foundation Singapore, to identify such exceptional talent.
In general, the fixed monthly salary of S$30,000 must be from one employer. This helps ensure that the candidate has played, or will be playing, a meaningful role in a company. For overseas candidates, the previous or prospective employer must also have a market capitalisation of at least US$500 million or an annual revenue of at least US$200 million.
Safeguards will be put in place at two levels:
- First level: MOM will carefully vet all applications. MOM already conducts back-end checks to sieve out potential cases of false salary declarations. This includes 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. This will also be applied to all ONE Pass applications. For those seeking to convert from an existing EP, MOM will scrutinise their personal income tax filings with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to ensure they are consistent with their application. For overseas candidates, MOM will further assess their company’s market capitalisation and revenue based on verifiable sources. The economic agencies will support MOM in this endeavour.
- Second level: MOM will engage ONE Pass holders during their time in Singapore to be up to date with their professional activities and annual income. This will factor into the assessment on their eligibility for renewal. MOM reserves the right to cancel the ONE Pass if there are extended periods of economic inactivity with no good reasons. The Minister explained that the scheme brings in talent and gives ONE Pass holders flexibility to encourage them to take risks, explore new frontiers, and make a big impact to benefit Singapore.
As the ONE Pass is meant for talent comparable to the top 5% of EP holders, an estimated 8,000 individuals are expected to qualify for the ONE Pass, with the focus being on quality rather than quantity. The Minister explained that MOM will not set a quota given that the ONE Pass has an even higher quality bar than an EP. Given the highly selective nature of the scheme, there is no risk of a deluge of people coming in through the ONE Pass.
Like any portfolio, the contribution of each Work Pass holder can vary. The Minister explained that not all Work Pass holders may succeed in the first instance as this is a natural consequence of risk-taking - what matters is the sum of the parts, and how well the whole portfolio performs. The Government aims to build a rich network of markets, people and ideas that over time will show up in the dynamism of Singapore’s economy.
The Minister also explained that small and medium-sized enterprises (“SMEs”) can benefit from the recent enhancements by directly hiring ONE Pass holders, tapping on the ONE Pass holder’s expertise through consulting services, or inviting them to join their Boards. A vibrant, growing economy will create more business opportunities or build a new eco-system for SMEs who may be partners, contractors, suppliers, or service provides, and this may be in up-and-coming sectors like the green economy or FinTech.
Benchmark pegged to top 10% of EP holders for existing schemes
The Minister also clarified that the new benchmarks set for existing schemes, including the exemption from the FCF job advertising requirement and COMPASS, do not amount to a policy relaxation.
By setting the benchmark at the top 10% of EP holders, the threshold for exemption is in fact increased from S$20,000 to S$22,500.
In relation to the rationale for exempting the top 10% of EP holders from the FCF job advertising criteria and COMPASS, the Minister explained that the top 10% of EP holders consists mostly of senior management and senior professionals. For such roles, companies would already have a stringent selection process to hire the right candidate, given the impact these individuals would have on their business. 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. Individuals filling these roles would also have no problems passing the COMPASS criteria given their calibre. This exemption helps send the right signal to global companies on Singapore’s openness, by giving them greater certainty that they are able to hire their key personnel, which will make a difference to their confidence to operate here. These global companies are a key driver in creating good jobs for locals, including opportunities for them to take on higher-level positions, and many locals have taken on these opportunities.
Restoring FCF job advertising duration from 28 days to 14 days
The Minister explained the historical context of the FCF job advertising requirement and why it is timely to adjust the job advertisement period back to 14 days. When the FCF job advertising requirement was first introduced in 2014, the duration was set at 14 days. During Covid-19, it was extended to 28 days due to the unprecedented slack in the labour market. There were more jobseekers than job openings and MOM wanted to give local jobseekers more time to respond to job openings and employers more time to evaluate the increased number of applications.
The situation has since reversed, and there are now more jobs than there are local jobseekers. The Minister explained that companies, including local enterprises, have been giving feedback that in the tight labour market, the 28-day requirement is causing them to lose good candidates because they are unable to offer them employment contracts quickly. The Minister further stated that employers are still expected to fairly consider all applicants who apply within this window.
Option of five-year EP for experienced tech professionals on the Shortage Occupation List
Although, for the time being, MOM has limited the option of a five-year EP to tech roles for which there is an acute shortage of talent globally, other sectors can benefit from this as well. The Minister explained that 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. MOM is watching the sustainability space closely as it develops and will refine its policies when needed.
More information on the work pass framework enhancements can be found in our article titled “Singapore as global hub for talent: MOM announces new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass, new benchmark for top 10% EP holders, shorter FCF job advertising duration, shorter EP applications processing time, five-year EP option”.