Singapore tightens rules on hiring foreign workers

Out-Law News | 04 Mar 2020 | 1:01 pm | 2 min. read

Employers in Singapore will face additional restrictions on hiring foreign workers under new measures outlined by the government.

Minister for manpower Josephine Teo confirmed on Tuesday that salary thresholds relevant to both 'Employment Passes' and 'S Passes' are to be increased later this year, while job advertising requirements are also being stiffened.

The measures are aimed at ensuring local people in Singapore are not discriminated against in the country's labour market, Teo said.

Employment Passes and S Passes are two types of permits that foreign workers can obtain to take up job opportunities in the city state. A number of criteria attach to each permit, including minimum monthly salary requirements, and applications further depend on quotas.

Teo announced that the Employment Pass (EP) minimum qualifying salary threshold is to be raised from SIN$3,600 ($2,600) to SIN$3,900 ($2,800) per month, while the salary threshold will be extended further for older and more experienced EP candidates.

"For example, an EP applicant in his early 40s will need to earn around double the new minimum qualifying salary of [SIN]$3,900," she said. "This is only fair, considering the skillsets he or she is expected to have. It helps to ensure a level playing field for experienced local mid-career PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians)."

The new salary thresholds will begin to apply for new EP applicants from 1 May this year, but businesses will have a further year to meet the thresholds for EP renewals.

Employers in Singapore are required to advertise on the MyCareersFuture.sg portal before submitting EP applications. An exemption to this advertising requirement currently applies for job positions with a salary of SIN$15,000 ($10,800) or above. Teo said the government will reduce the exemption from 1 May this year to require jobs paying up to SIN$20,000 ($14,400) to be advertised via the portal.

Teo said the advertising requirements must not be viewed as a "paper exercise", and outlined the measures the government is taking to clampdown on non-compliance.

"MOM (Ministry of Manpower) has started to use data analytics to scrutinise EP applications," Teo said. "We also actively follow up on leads provided by whistleblowers."

"If we uncover evidence that an employer had pre-selected a foreign candidate and did not give fair consideration to qualified local applicants, we will reject the EP application and ban the employer from hiring or renewing foreign workers," she said.

Teo said the government looks out for employers with "exceptionally high share of foreign PMETs compared to industry peers, or high concentrations of single nationalities", and places those employers on a watchlist where all EP applications are scrutinised or withheld. She said 1,000 businesses are on the watchlist and that a total of 3,000 EP applications have either been rejected or withheld by MOM, or withdrawn by employers, to-date.

Teo also announced an increase in the 'local qualifying salary' (LQS). The payment of local workers above the LQS threshold means employers can count those workers when offsetting against the number of S Pass holders under their employment, and thereby comply with quota requirements.

Teo said the LQS will be increased from SIN$1,300 ($939) to $1,400 ($1,000) on 1 July 2020.

The Singapore government also recently outlined plans to cut the number of foreign workers coming in to the city state to work in the construction sector. Cuts to the 'S Pass' quotas will also be implemented in the marine shipyard and process sectors, with the reductions in the quotas to be implemented in 2021 and 2023.

"S Passes should not be a means by which enterprises hire low-cost foreigners when qualified locals are available," Teo said in her speech.