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Firms with expansion plans can hire more S Pass, work permit holders under new scheme

The M-SEP scheme aims to support the growth of companies that contribute to Singapore's strategic economic priorities.

03:00 Min
With some companies in Singapore facing a manpower crunch, a new scheme will allow firms that have expansion plans to temporarily hire more rank-and-file foreign workers than prevailing quotas permit. Jeraldine Yap has more.

SINGAPORE: Companies that have expansion plans will be able to temporarily hire more rank-and-file foreign workers above the quota for their industry, under a new scheme launched on Tuesday (Dec 13).

These workers are S Pass or work permit holders. 

To qualify for the scheme, firms must be contributing to Singapore’s "key economic priorities", which include innovation, research and development and internationalisation.

They must also demonstrate that they are hiring and training local workers.

Called the Manpower for Strategic Economic Priorities (M-SEP) scheme, it was first announced by Manpower Minister Tan See Leng earlier this year at his ministry's Committee of Supply debate following Budget 2022, although no details were given then.

In his speech on Mar 4, Dr Tan also announced a reduction in the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) for the construction and process sectors from 2024.

The DRC specifies the maximum proportion of foreign workers that a company is allowed to hire in relation to its total workforce.

Dr Tan said then: "Going forward, we will adopt a more targeted approach by providing flexibilities to businesses that contribute to our economic priorities, and in job roles where there are more pressing manpower needs but fewer locals."


Announcing details of the M-SEP scheme on Tuesday, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said qualifying companies will have the flexibility to temporarily hire S Pass and work permit holders above the current DRC.

The quota for such hires is up to 5 per cent of a firm's base workforce headcount – subject to a cap of 50 workers per company.

This will last for two years and can be renewed if the firm continues to meet the qualifying criteria.

S Passes are held by mid-level workers who earn at least S$3,000 a month while work permit holders are generally semi-skilled migrant workers.

The ministries said that the scheme is meant for firms that are “needle-movers” for Singapore’s economic priorities, adding that it will help them “seize opportunities” to grow while securing jobs and training opportunities in the process.

Companies can start applying for the M-SEP scheme on MOM’s website from Tuesday.


The first condition is that the companies must have investments that support Singapore’s hub strategy, be involved in innovation or research and development, or be expanding overseas.

Examples are manufacturers that hire at least 500 local workers, or high-growth start-ups with a minimum investment of US$10 million over the last 36 months and have received funding from recognised investment firms.

Qualifying firms may also be involved in at least one of the initiatives by economic agencies like the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG) or the Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore, among others.

The ministries provided in their media release a list of 14 programmes, including EDB’s Development and Expansion Incentive, EnterpriseSG’s Scale-Up SG and the Singapore Tourism Accelerator by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Only about 1,000 firms – less than 1 per cent of all registered businesses in Singapore – would meet this requirement, the ministries said.

"Not all of them will require additional S Pass and Work Permit quotas, as they would be able to source for workers locally," MOM and MTI said.

They added that even among firms who need additional foreign manpower, not all of them would be able to hire the maximum of 50 workers as this is subject to a quota of 5 per cent of a firm's base headcount. 


Firms must commit to hiring and training local workers, by either increasing the size of their local workforce or sending workers to approved training programmes.

These training programmes will require companies to demonstrate sufficient effort in directly training the individual, and will result in “job enhancements” which could be promotions with wage increments, an expanded job scope or higher-level responsibilities, said MOM and MTI.

Firms that qualify as industry leaders in training excellence can also qualify. These would be companies that are certified Gold or Platinum by the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning (NACE), or are SkillsFuture Queen Bees.

NACE’s website lists seven companies with gold or platinum awards for their workplace learning systems and processes. The three companies with platinum certificates are JLL, SBS Transit and SMRT Trains.

The SkillsFuture Queen Bee companies have to be industry leaders who champion skills development for smaller firms they work with. There are 16 listed online, including companies like DBS, Microsoft and Boston Consulting Group.

To be eligible for M-SEP renewal, companies will have to show that they have met both conditions by the end of the support period. Firms will also have to maintain their local workforce share during this period. Those that fail to do so will be suspended from M-SEP for two years.

“The M-SEP scheme signals Singapore’s commitment to remain open and connected, and the Government’s continued support for our businesses to amplify economic growth and the creation of more good jobs for Singaporeans,” said MTI and MOM.

Source: CNA/hm(gs)


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