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Rule adjustments for new talent work pass not a relaxation of existing policies: Tan See Leng

In a ministerial statement on Monday (Sep 12), Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said the changes will help to set a "clearer benchmark for existing schemes”, send "the right signal" to global companies on Singapore’s openness and are also in tandem with changes in the local labour market.

Rule adjustments for new talent work pass not a relaxation of existing policies: Tan See Leng

People wearing protective face masks cross the road at Pickering Street in Singapore on Sep 6, 2021. (File photo: CNA/Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: The setting of a new salary benchmark and other planned changes that will be made alongside the introduction of a new talent work pass do not constitute a relaxation of existing policies, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng in Parliament on Monday (Sep 12).

Dr Tan was responding to parliamentary questions about the Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass – a new work pass that will be introduced to strengthen Singapore’s position as a global talent hub.

The work pass is meant for talent from any sector who earns a monthly salary of S$30,000 and above, or has “outstanding achievements” in the areas of science and technology, arts and culture, research and academia, or sports, authorities said.

It will be rolled out alongside other adjustments to Singapore’s work pass framework.

For instance, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will set a single benchmark for the top 10 per cent of Employment Pass (EP) holders, and the salary threshold for a number of requirements for work pass applications will be aligned to this. The new threshold is set at $22,500 and will start in September 2023.

This will affect advertising for a job opening under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) and the new Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS).

FCF advertising refers to a requirement for companies here to advertise a job opening for a specified time period before hiring a non-local, while COMPASS is a new points system for EP applicants that will kick in from Sep 1 next year.

Currently, if the monthly salary for a particular position is S$20,000 or more, companies do not have to advertise under FCF and the candidate is exempt from COMPASS requirements. This will be adjusted upwards to S$22,500.

Dr Tan, in a ministerial statement, described these as “highly-targeted enhancements” that are aimed at attracting top talent in diverse fields and experienced tech professionals in areas of skills shortages. They will also help give the country “significant first-mover and sustainable competitive advantages” in new growth areas.

He added: “The new benchmark for existing schemes, including the exemption from the Fair Consideration Framework, or FCF job advertising requirement, and COMPASS – let me clarify that this is not a relaxation of our policies.”

The new salary benchmark, with a higher threshold for exemption at S$22,500, aims “to set a clearer benchmark for existing schemes”. 

“This will give our businesses predictability on future updates, and to ensure that our mainstream framework continues to cover the vast majority of EP applications even as wages move up,” the minister said.

Responding to a question from Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh about exemptions from FCF job advertising rules and COMPASS, Dr Tan explained that the top 10 per cent of EP holders mostly consist of senior management and senior professionals.

Companies would already have a stringent selection process for such roles, he said. It is also likely that headhunters will be involved in the recruitment process and that it is “not typical” for these roles to be filled by advertising on job portals like MyCareersFuture.sg.

Individuals for these roles also would “have no problems” passing the COMPASS criteria given their calibre, the minister added.

“Providing this exemption is therefore not a major concession on our part,” Dr Tan stressed, noting that it instead helps to “send the right signal” to global companies on Singapore’s openness.

“These global companies are a key driver in creating good jobs for locals, including opportunities for them to take on higher-level positions. Many locals have taken on these opportunities,” he added.

Other Members of Parliament (MPs) asked about planned adjustments for the FCF job advertising duration, which applies to all EP and S Pass applications.

MP Patrick Tay (PAP-Pioneer) asked if a shorter duration of 14 days would remove the need for employers to exhaust all avenues to hire local PMEs, while MPs Louis Chua (WP-Sengkang) and Ang Wei Neng (PAP-West Coast) asked for more data regarding the efficacy of the FCF job advertising requirement.

On that, Dr Tan said the FCF job advertising requirement was set at 14 days when it was first introduced in 2014. This was because, based on data from MyCareerFutures.sg, the majority of job applications were submitted within the first two weeks of a job posting.

Authorities later extended the job advertisement rule to 28 days during the COVID-19 pandemic due to “unprecedented slack in the labour market”.

Noting that the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons reached a low of 0.55 in June 2020, the minister said: “We 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, Dr Tan continued, pointing out that the ratio of vacancies to unemployed persons has risen to more than 2.4, meaning there are now more jobs than local jobseekers.

“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,” he added, noting that it is “timely” for the adjustment back to 14 days.

“But members of the House make no mistake, employers are still expected to fairly consider all applicants who apply within this window. This remains unchanged, and our employers understand this,” he said.

MOM will also be introducing a five-year EP to experienced professionals filling tech jobs requiring highly specialised skills currently in shortage in the local workforce.

These will be specified in the upcoming COMPASS Shortage Occupation List. They also have to earn a salary of at least S$10,500, and are subject to COMPASS criteria.

Dr Tan said authorities have decided to limit this to tech roles for the time being, given the acute shortage of talent globally.

“But that is not to say that other sectors cannot benefit. 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,” he said in response to a question from MP Rachel Ong (PAP-West Coast) about whether this can be extended to non-tech professionals in the sustainability sector.

“We are watching the sustainability space closely as it develops, and we will refine our policies when needed,” the minister added.

Source: CNA/sk(ac)

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