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Singapore to launch new work pass for top talent in all sectors from 2023

There is a S$30,000 minimum monthly salary requirement for the new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass. Those with “outstanding achievements” in tech, arts, academia or sports can qualify even if they do not meet the salary criterion.

Singapore to launch new work pass for top talent in all sectors from 2023

Office workers in the central business district of Singapore. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: A work pass is being introduced that will allow high-earners and high-achievers to live in Singapore without having to secure a job here first, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Monday (Aug 29).

The initiative is part of plans to ensure that Singapore can compete effectively in the global fight for top talent, he said.

The Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass is meant for talent from any sector who earns a monthly salary of S$30,000 and above, or have “outstanding achievements” in the areas of science and technology, arts and culture, research and academia, or sports.

Under the salary criterion, applicants must prove that they have earned a fixed monthly salary of at least S$30,000 in the last year or show that they will earn that minimum amount under their future employer in Singapore. 

Overseas candidates will also need to show that they have worked or will be working for an established company – defined as one with a market capitalisation of at least US$500 million or an annual revenue of at least US$200 million – either in their overseas role at the point of application, or future role based in Singapore.

It is “timely” to cement Singapore’s position as a global hub for talent at this juncture as Singapore emerges from the pandemic into a period of economic and geopolitical uncertainties remain, said Dr Tan at a press conference at the National Press Centre on Hill Street.

Noting that some countries are turning inwards but others are going out of their way to compete for global talent, he said: “In this climate, all the more, we need to be clear about where Singapore stands. We cannot leave any room for investors to doubt or to have questions as to whether Singapore remains open.

“We are now in an era where businesses follow talent, as much as talent follows business. Both businesses and talent are searching for safe and stable environments to invest, live and work in. Singapore is such a place.”

Dr Tan’s comments echo those of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said at the National Day Rally on Aug 21 that Singapore must build up a "world-class talent pool" by developing its own workforce while continuing to attract talent from abroad.

“We want to make top talent everywhere sit up, pay attention and think seriously about coming to Singapore,” Mr Lee had said.

Mr Lee had said that countries are making a special effort to court top international talents, citing Germany and the United Kingdom as examples. Germany recently allowed skilled foreign professionals to live there even before they secure a job, he said. 

The UK introduced this year a High-Potential Individual Visa for recent graduates from the top 50 universities in the world outside the UK. Mr Lee said that the list of universities includes local varsities National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

He added: “In this global contest for talent, Singapore cannot afford to be creamed off, or left behind.”

HOW THE NEW WORK PASS WORKS

Unlike the Tech.Pass that was introduced in January last year, the Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass applies to all sectors. As its name implies, the Tech.Pass for is only for tech entrepreneurs, leaders or experts.

Applicants also do not necessarily have to meet the S$30,000 salary criterion, if they have “outstanding achievements” in arts, sports, science and/or academia.

When asked what would be considered"outstanding achievements", Dr Tan said that the salary benchmark is a proxy but the work pass targets the top 5 per cent, or even top 2 to 3 per cent of talent in the world across these areas.

The benchmark salary of S$30,000 is comparable to the top 5 per cent of EP holders in Singapore.

MOM will work with other agencies with the relevant knowledge in these fields to identify such talent, he said. 

A summary of the new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass. (Graphic: Clara Ho)
A summary of the new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass. (Graphic: Clara Ho)

"Some of the agencies are actively targetting (these talents) and they have some candidates in mind for us to approach them," said the minister.

For example, agencies could approach candidates with international awards, such as a Fields Medal, an award for outstanding mathematicians.

As for the sectors that could benefit from the new work pass, Dr Tan said one possible industry is the green economy where technologies are still nascent and new opportunities abound.

As a personalised pass, the new pass will not be contingent upon the applicant having a job in Singapore, unlike ordinary Employment Passes (EP). The work pass holder can thus start, operate and work for multiple companies in Singapore at any one time.

This is similar to an existing Personalised Employment Pass (PEP) that allows a foreigner to change employers without re-applying for an EP, and stay in Singapore for up to six months while looking for employment.

But the Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass will have greater flexibility, as there is no condition that the pass holder has six months to look for work. They can also sponsor their dependents to join them in Singapore and their spouses can work with a letter of consent. Other work passes have stricter criteria for spouses to work here.

Compared to existing work passes, the Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass is valid for a longer period – five years – compared with two years for the EP (new applicants) and three years for the PEP.

Pass holders will also not be subject to the upcoming Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS) – a new points system for EP applicants that will kick in from Sep 1 next year. Besides salary and the candidate’s qualifications, the new system awards points based on the firm’s nationality diversity and support for local employment.

MOM said that the top talent who qualify for the new pass would likely have been able to enter Singapore under the existing EP framework, but the additional flexibility strengthens Singapore’s attraction as a global hub for talent.

“MOM will closely engage pass holders during their time in Singapore. The flexibilities offered by this pass are meant to allow pass holders to contribute meaningfully to Singapore. It is not meant to be abused as a visit or travel document,” said Dr Tan.

Applications for the Overseas Networks & Expertise pass will be open from Jan 1.

OTHER CHANGES TO WORK PASSES

The new ONE Pass was introduced along with other changes to Singapore’s work pass framework that are designed to better attract talent and to streamline processes for companies hiring them.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will introduce 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 (SOL). They also have to earn a salary of at least S$10,500, and are subject to COMPASS criteria.

“This enhancement will provide greater certainty to experienced tech professionals when making major decisions on relocating to Singapore, and this will allow us to anchor tech capabilities even as we develop our local pipeline,” said Dr Tan.

There will also be changes made to the salary benchmark and work pass conditions for the top 10 per cent of EP holders or applicants from Sep 1, 2023.

Dr Tan said that MOM will set a single benchmark of the top 10 per cent of 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.

He explained: “This benchmark and streamlining are intended to give companies greater clarity on our work pass framework. With a benchmark, companies will know that future changes to the salary thresholds and criteria will be incremental.”

This will affect advertising for a job opening under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) and the new COMPASS framework. Currently if the position’s monthly salary 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. 

FCF advertising refers to a requirement for companies here to advertise a job opening for a specified time period before hiring a non-local.

The salary benchmark for the PEP will also be adjusted to S$22,500, up from S$18,000 as of Sep 1 next year.

FASTER PROCESSING OF EMPLOYMENT PASSES

Responding to companies’ feedback, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will also reduce the duration of (FCF) job advertising from 28 days to 14 days from Sep 1 this year.

Dr Tan said that the FCF advertising time was doubled in October 2020 during a weak job market, and MOM is making this adjustment now that the job market has rebounded strongly. 

MOM also promised employers that they will reduce processing time for EPs and respond to all applications within 10 business days. For now, 85 per cent of online EP applications are processed within three weeks. The ministry will also furnish reasons why the EP application failed, or was delayed, in a bid for greater transparency.

“We hope that these changes will allow companies to move with greater speed and certainty when it comes to hiring,” he said.

Dr Tan said that the goal underlying all the changes to the work pass framework is to create more, and more exciting, opportunities for Singaporeans, and grow the size of Singapore's economy.

“By bringing the best from around the world, we can tap on their networks, we can learn from their expertise, and ultimately, we will accelerate the development of our own local talent pool.”

Responding to a reporter's question on how the new pass might affect the salaries of local workers, Dr Tan said: "I believe over the medium to long-term ... overall it will be an uplifting experience for our local Singaporeans."

DEVELOPING LOCAL TALENT

He promised that, in tandem, Singapore will continue to invest heavily in developing the local workforce. For example, the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) mapped out growth plans for 23 sectors and for each, MOM identified in-demand jobs and skills strategies to build up the local talent pipeline.

The ministry has also launched Jobs Transformation Maps, to provide job-level insights on the impact of technology on the industry and workforce. 

Singapore agencies also have programmes to help locals gain global and regional exposure, such as the International Posting Programme that funds overseas postings for Singaporeans in the financial sector, and the SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative that supports companies across sectors to develop local leaders, he said.

“We are making very systematic efforts. But when it comes to developing our own people, the work is never finished. We must keep doing more.

"Our ambition is to groom many more Singaporeans into becoming world-class leaders, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with global giants,” said the Manpower Minister. 

He added that as part of the Forward Singapore exercise, the Government will consult workers and businesses on how it can encourage even more locals to take on regional and global opportunities.

“Singapore needs to take a proactive approach to cement our position as a global hub for talent; we need send a clear message to the world that we remain open for business,” said Dr Tan. 

“We will continue to groom our local talent and our leadership pool. We must attract the best here, so we can learn from them. And support to project and send our locals abroad so that they can acquire greater regional and global exposure to take up leadership positions and be strongly anchored back home.”

Source: CNA/hm(ac)
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