No PR fast-track for top foreign talent, but Singapore gains if it can 'anchor' them: Tan See Leng
The Manpower Minister added that there are clear benefits if work pass holders are well-integrated into Singapore's society.
SINGAPORE: Singapore does not provide any guarantee or fast-track to permanent residency (PR) for employment pass or Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass holders, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng in Parliament on Monday (Nov 7).
But the hope is that as top foreign talent spend time in Singapore, they will choose to "anchor" here and make it their home, said Dr Tan.
"Granting PR or citizenship to deserving global talent means that we can anchor them here to continue creating opportunities for Singapore and Singaporeans in the long run," he said.
The minister was responding to an adjournment motion by Nominated Member of Parliament Raj Joshua Thomas, on building a global talent strategy.
Mr Thomas, a lawyer and the president of the Security Association Singapore, set out in the motion two main suggestions on how the Government can bolster its global talent policy and ameliorate local concerns.
He said that while Singaporeans recognise that the country cannot "indigenously" produce all the talent needed to grow the economy, there appears to be an impression that its global talent policies are "synonymous with immigration".
"As such, my view is that we should make clear that our relationship with global talent coming into Singapore is transactional in the first instance," Mr Thomas said.
He added: "This transactional first instance will be a testing phase, to see if they like us and we like them. If it’s a match, then we should certainly invite them to become permanent residents and citizens."
Mr Thomas said that Singapore must ensure that foreigners working and seeking to settle here also respect and accept the country's national identity, shared values and way of life.
"Immigration and our global talent policy, although related, should not be seen as one and the same," he said.
"I therefore encourage the Government to emphasise that citizenship and to a certain extent permanent residency, is not merely a matter of skills and qualifications, but also one of fit and acceptance."
Dr Tan agreed, saying Singapore maintains "a clear distinction" between its work pass and immigration frameworks.
Applications for permanent residency or citizenship are assessed independently and based on considerations including the applicant’s family ties to Singaporeans, ability to integrate into society, economic contributions and commitment to sinking roots in Singapore, he said.
Dr Tan added that there are clear benefits if work pass holders are well-integrated into Singapore's society.
"A healthy respect for our laws, our culture, and their local colleagues will make for less friction in the workplace and at the same time produce stronger teams," he said.
There are orientation programmes for them, but these are not compulsory, the minister added.
Mr Thomas also made the point that there should be respect for the capabilities of Singaporeans.
He noted statistics shared by Dr Tan last month - that more than 1,700 employers have been placed on the Fair Consideration Framework’s (FCF) watchlist for having a high concentration of a single foreign nationality source, and that 300 companies have breached the FCF from 2017 to 2020.
"We must not allow our local workers to be overlooked due to preferences other than merit," said Mr Thomas.
He said that while some Singaporeans may lose jobs to global talent, Singapore's policies must ensure that over time, "foreigners will lose jobs to Singaporeans, as we become able to fill these roles ourselves".
"This replacement is, also however, dependent on us grooming our local talent to themselves become global talent."
To accomplish this, he suggested that more be done in schools to encourage a global mindset among students.
Dr Tan said Singapore does have programmes to start such capability-building early, and that the manpower and education ministries will work together to start "cultivating a global mindset" even earlier.
"Developing a global mindset is not something that the Government can do alone," he said.
"It requires our workforce, our individuals to be willing to learn, to be ambitious, to have the hunger to succeed, and to be tenacious to overcome challenges. It also requires companies to devote resources to nurturing young local talents."
Dr Tan also pledged to do more with unions, workers and companies; and encouraged the public to participate in Forward Singapore engagement sessions to contribute their ideas.