29 September 2022

On 29 August 2022, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”), the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Communications and Information announced four enhancements to Singapore’s work pass framework to better attract top talent and experienced tech professionals in areas of skills shortages and to strengthen Singapore’s position as a global hub for talent in light of the intensifying competition for talent. Further information on the work pass framework enhancements was delivered in a ministerial statement on 12 September 2022 by Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng.

These four enhancements are:

1. New Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass: MOM will introduce a new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass (“ONE Pass”), named to reflect the qualities the pass holders will bring to Singapore. It is meant for top talent across all sectors. There will be a few routes to apply for the pass, and the pass will be open for applications from 1 January 2023.

The Pass holders will not be subject to the Fair Consideration Framework (“FCF”) job advertising requirement and the upcoming Complementarity Assessment Framework (“COMPASS”). Pass holders will be asked to notify MOM annually of their professional activities to ensure that they utilise the flexibilities accorded to contribute meaningfully. 

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.

Applicants will need to earn a fixed monthly salary of S$30,000 and above, comparable to the top 5% of Employment Pass (“EP”) holders. Individuals with outstanding achievements across the arts and culture, sports, science and technology, and research and academia, can also qualify even if they may not meet the salary criterion. 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.

2. New benchmark pegged to top 10% of EP holders: MOM will introduce a new benchmark pegged to the top 10% of EP holders. EP applicants of this quality will continue to be exempted from the FCF job advertising requirement and the upcoming COMPASS. They will also continue to be eligible for the Personalised Employment Pass (“PEP”). This benchmark will provide greater clarity and transparency on MOM’s work pass framework for talent. To align to this single benchmark, the exemption bar for the FCF job advertising requirement and COMPASS will be raised from S$20,000 to S$22,500. The salary criterion for the PEP will also be raised to S$22,500. These changes will be implemented from 1 September 2023.

In his ministerial statement, the Minister clarified that the new benchmarks do not amount to a policy relaxation. 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.

MOM will review these thresholds annually against the benchmark, taking into account prevailing economic conditions.

3. For all EP applications, MOM will enable companies to be more responsive to business needs.

  • Shorter FCF job advertising duration: MOM will restore the FCF job advertising duration to 14 days with effect from 1 September 2022. The FCF job advertising duration was increased to 28 days in October 2020 amidst a weak job market to give jobseekers more time to respond to job openings. The labour market has since recovered strongly, and MOM is making this adjustment in view of the tight labour market. 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.
  • Shorter processing time for EP applications: MOM will improve the processing time for all EP applications. Presently, 85% of online EP applications are processed within three weeks. With recent technological upgrades to MOM’s work pass systems, EP applications will be processed, or an update will be given to employers within 10 business days. This was implemented from 29 August 2022.

4. Five-year EP option: MOM will offer the option of a five-year EP to experienced professionals filling specific tech occupations on the COMPASS Shortage Occupation List. The first shortage occupation list will be announced in March 2023. Compared to the typical pass duration of two to three years, MOM states that a longer pass duration will give greater certainty to experienced tech professionals as well as businesses in their workforce planning and allow Singapore to anchor tech capabilities while developing the local pipeline.

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 details on the four enhancements are set out in the factsheet annexed to the press release.

Support measures for locals

At the same time, Singapore will continue to build its local leadership pipeline by supporting local talent to acquire global and regional experience through programmes like the International Posting Programme, which funds overseas postings for Singaporeans in the financial sector, the SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative, which supports companies across sectors to develop local leaders, and the Global Ready Talent Programme, which supports overseas internships.

Under the Forward Singapore exercise, the Empower Pillar on Economy and Jobs will be consulting workers and businesses on how the Government can encourage even more locals to take on regional and global opportunities, including how the Government can reduce barriers that deter locals from taking up overseas stints. This will complement the new Singapore Global Executive Programme that was announced at Budget 2022. More details will be released in due course.

Reference materials

The following are available from the MOM website www.mom.gov.sg: