Singapore, ONE Pass, Employment Pass, Work Pass, Recruitment, Expats, Fair Consideration Framework, FCF job advertising duration

To avoid potential abuse of the work pass, the Manpower Ministry will implement safeguards in two levels: vetting all applications, and engaging with pass holders to assess their eligibility for pass renewal.

Following the introduction of Singapore's new Overseas Networks and Expertise Pass (ONE Pass) for top talent, which launches on 1 January 2023, Minister of Manpower Dr Tan See Leng has addressed several parliamentary questions with more details on the work pass.

To start off, Minister Tan summarised Singapore's new enhancements targeted to attract talent.

  • First, the introduction of the new ONE Pass for talent earning at least S$30,000 in fixed monthly salary - comparable to the top 5% of Employment Pass (EP) holders - or with outstanding achievements in arts and culture, sports, and research and academia.
  • Second, a new benchmark pegged to the top 10% of EP holders for existing MOM schemes, namely the exemption from the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) job advertising requirement and COMPASS, as well salary criterion for the Personalised Employment Pass.
  • Third, restoring the FCF job advertising duration from 28 days to 14 days, effective 1 September 2022, and improving processing time of EP applications.
  • Last, the option of a five-year EP to experienced professionals filling tech occupations on the COMPASS Shortage Occupation List.

According to Minister Tan, these are highly-targeted enhancements – aimed at attracting top talent in diverse fields, and experienced tech professionals in areas of skills shortages.

"They build on our efforts to improve the complementarity and diversity of our foreign workforce. The enhancements will also aim to build significant first-mover and sustainable competitive advantages in new growth areas to keep us ahead of the competition. I will address questions raised on each move in turn."

ONE Pass criteria and eligibility

Minister Tan then shared more on the newly-introduced ONE Pass, - particularly clarifications on the privileges, criteria, safeguards, expected numbers as well as the impact on local employment outcomes.

The Minister first responded to Member of the Parliament Leong Mun Wai's query on what makes the ONE Pass more attractive to talent compared to the Tech.Pass.

Similar to the Tech.Pass, the ONE Pass is a personalised pass that allows holders to concurrently start, operate, and work for multiple companies in Singapore at any one time. However, compared to the Tech.Pass, it is open to candidates from all sectors, and is not limited to the tech sector alone.

It has a longer duration of five years, instead of two. Spouses of ONE Pass holders are also able to obtain a Letter of Consent (LOC) to work.

Addressing Assoc Prof Jamus Lim’s question next, the Minister shared that MOM does not have restrictions on the occupations that LOC holders can work in – this is generally the same approach for all other work pass holders, including dependants working in Singapore. The longer duration of the pass, as well as the LOC for spouses, is meant to give top talent the additional assurance they need when deciding whether to come to Singapore.

Minister Tan shared: "Businesses tell us that these are key factors top talent consider before deciding where to go."

He also explained why dependants of the ONE Pass holders are able to work on an LOC, instead of being assessed based on their own merits.

"Today, dependants of EP holders are eligible to work in Singapore if they obtain a work pass. We stopped issuing LOCs to dependants, not because we did not want them to work here, but because it made sense to hold them to a similar bar as all other foreigners. This policy remains unchanged.

"But when we are talking about top talent, we must be mindful of how global, how mobile they are, and how stiff the competition is for them. Many other jurisdictions – including Hong Kong, the UAE, and the UK – offer work privileges for dependants. When people make major relocation decisions, it is usually a family decision. Without certainty for the spouse, these talent may choose to go elsewhere. In terms of numbers, it is not that material."

Of the top 5% of existing EP holders that might qualify for the ONE Pass as a proxy, only a minority have spouses who are working. However, in terms of the signal MOM intends to give to top talent, it is "absolutely material" and "absolutely needle-moving".

Speaking on the criteria for the ONE Pass, particularly for talent with outstanding achievements, MOM is looking at individuals who have demonstrated exceptionally high levels of achievement in the fields of arts, sports, science, and academia, who can "help Singapore push new frontiers, draw in greater investments and interest to grow our local ecosystem, and most importantly, create a very diverse range of opportunities for Singaporeans".

In the case of sports, for example, it would include current and former world-class top-ranked athletes who may wish to set up their commercial operations or training bases in Singapore, from which local athletes, coaches, and the sports ecosystem can benefit. MOM will work with sector agencies that are experts in these domains, such as MCCY, NAC, MOE, and NRF to identify such exceptional talent.

Lastly, Minister Tan also elaborated more on the S$30,000 fixed monthly salary criterion, and whether it can be drawn from multiple employers. In general, the fixed monthly salary of S$30,000 must be from one employer.

"This helps us ensure that the candidate has played, or will be playing a meaningful role in a company."

For overseas candidates, the previous or prospective employer must also have a market capitalisation of at least US$500mn or annual revenue of at least US$200mn.

Minister Tan acknowledged that most people would agree that S$30,000 is indeed a high bar, and may worry about potential abuse of the new work pass. Addressing these potential concerns, the Minister affirmed that MOM will take precautions as it rolls out the pass.

Safeguards

MOM will put in place safeguards at two levels.

On the first level, MOM will carefully vet all applications. Currently, MOM conducts back-end checks to sieve out potential cases of false salary declarations. This includes scrutinising applications from companies with a limited track record, and asking for more documents to verify that the salary declared will in fact be paid.

This will also apply to all ONE Pass applications. For those seeking to convert from an existing EP, MOM will scrutinise their Personal Income Tax filings with IRAS to ensure they are consistent with their application. For overseas candidates, MOM will further assess their company’s market capitalisation and revenue based on verifiable sources. The economic agencies will support MOM in this.

On the second level, MOM will engage the pass holders during their time in Singapore, so as to remain up to date with their professional activities and annual income. This will factor into MOM's assessment of their eligibility for renewal.

Apart from the above, Minister Tan also addressed the lack of a time limit requiring ONE Pass applicants to remain employed: "Let me be very clear. The ONE Pass is not meant to be abused as a visit or travel document. MOM reserves the right the cancel the pass if there are extended periods of economic inactivity with no good reasons."

Having said that, MOM is bringing in these talent and giving them flexibilities "to encourage them to take risks, explore new frontiers, and make a big impact to benefit Singapore. It is important to allow for some ramp-up period for that to happen, and not be "too quick to jump to the conclusion that they are not contributing," the Minister noted.

Separately, Members of Parliament (MPs) had asked for the number of individuals expected to qualify for the ONE Pass. In response, Minister Tan highlighted that this pass for talent comparable to the top 5% of Singapore's EP holders, which means that the salary criterion is based on the 95th percentile of EP wages. To give a sense of numbers, Minister Tan shared that today, 5% of EP holders would be around 8,000.

"But the focus is really not on the numbers – because we are focusing on quality rather than quantity."

On whether there will be a quota on the number of ONE Pass holders, he shared that MOM will not be setting a quota for the following reason: "If we accept that there is never enough top talent to go around the world, then it does not make sense to limit the amount of talent we are bringing in. If we impose a quota, we are essentially putting a hard limit on how strongly we can compete at the high-end of the global economy. This ultimately hurts Singaporeans, who will then have fewer opportunities."

This is the same reason why MOM does not impose a quota for EPs, but focuses on "setting a high-quality bar instead." Given that the ONE Pass has an "even higher quality bar" than an EP, Minister Tan believes that it would not be wise to apply a quota here.

"However, Members would know that we are talking about the top of the pyramid of talent. Given the highly selective nature of the scheme, there is no risk of a deluge of people coming in through the ONE Pass."

At the same time, Minister Tan understands there may be queries on how the pass would benefit Singaporeans and what the expected impact on local employment is going to be: "As I mentioned earlier, we will engage all pass holders. This will allow us to better gauge if they have been contributing in meaningful ways. Even so, the relationship between talent, innovation, and economic growth is more than a simple, linear one."

The contributions of talented individuals go beyond a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). According to the Minister, "limiting and reducing it to that risks constraining us to a yardstick of measurements and missing the forest for the trees".

"Some pass holders may be employees, making it possible to bring a new business unit to Singapore, or grow a new line of business. Others may set up companies of their own, generating employment, as well as supporting their network of business partners who can also provide good jobs. Yet others may be here to teach, advise or consult for local enterprises, sharing their expertise with Singaporean business owners and professionals."

Like any portfolio, MOM understands that the contribution of each pass holder can vary. "Indeed, not all may succeed in the first instance, because such is the nature of risk-taking. What matters is the sum of the parts, and how well the whole portfolio performs. We are building a rich network of markets, people and ideas, that over time, will show up in the dynamism of our economy. And if, at the macro level, local job creation remains strong, unemployment low, real income growth sustained, and if, amongst our people, there is always a sense of hope and of opportunities – then I think we would have succeeded."

Minister Tan stated that local Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) will benefit from this too. Particularly, they too will be able to benefit from the recent enhancements — some SMEs could benefit from directly hiring the ONE Pass holders, while others could tap on the pass holder’s expertise through consulting services, or inviting them to join their Boards.

"Just as importantly, a vibrant, growing economy will create more business opportunities or build a new eco-system for our SMEs who may be partners, contractors, suppliers or service providers. This may be in up-and-coming sectors like green economy or FinTech, where there will be new cheese for our SMEs."

Benchmark pegged to top 10% of EP holders for existing schemes

Moving on to the new benchmark for existing schemes, including the exemption from the Fair Consideration Framework, or FCF job advertising requirement and COMPASS, Minister Tan clarified that this is not a relaxation of MOM's policies.

By setting the benchmark at the top 10% of EP holders, the threshold for exemption is in fact increased from S$20,000 to S$22,500, setting a clearer benchmark for existing schemes. This will give businesses predictability on future updates, and ensure that MOM's mainstream framework continues to cover the vast majority of EP applications, even as wages move up.

Explaining the rationale for exempting the top 10% of EP holders from the FCF job advertising criteria and COMPASS, Minister Tan shared that the top 10% of EP holders consists mostly of senior management and senior professionals. For such roles, companies would already have a stringent selection process to hire the right candidate, given the impact these individuals would have on their business.

"It is also more likely that head-hunters or search firms will play a role to fill these jobs, and it is not typical for these roles to be filled by advertising on job portals like MyCareersFuture.sg alone."

Individuals filling these roles would also have no problems passing the COMPASS criteria given their calibre. Minister Tan, therefore, believes that providing this exemption is not a major concession on MOM's part. However, it does help to "send the right signal" to global companies about Singapore's openness, "by giving them greater certainty" that they are able to hire their key personnel, which will "make a difference to their confidence" in operating in Singapore.

"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. And, as I will share more later, we will continue to invest heavily in developing our own local talent, so that they can compete strongly at all and every level."

FCF job advertising duration

Apart from attracting top talent, MOM also wants to make sure that the broad base of businesses can access complementary foreign workers, especially in areas of skills shortages.

On that note, Minister Tan went on to speak about the adjustment to the FCF job advertising duration, which applies to all EP and S Pass applications. He addressed the query on whether shortening it to 14 days will remove the need for employers to exhaust all avenues to hire local PMEs, before they turn to foreign PMEs. To understand the efficacy of the FCF job advertising requirement, the Minister shared more data.

Providing more background, when the FCF job advertising requirement was first introduced in 2014, the duration was set at 14 days. Based on data from MyCareerFutures.sg, the vast majority of applications are submitted within the first two weeks of a job posting. Thereafter, responses fall off significantly. As such, 14 days was an optimal balance between giving jobseekers time to look for a job, and making sure that companies could fill their vacancies in response to pressing business needs.

During the COVID-19 period, MOM extended the FCF job advertising duration to 28 days, due to the unprecedented slack in the labour market. The ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons reached a low of 0.55 in June 2020, with more jobseekers than job openings. MOM 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. The ratio of vacancies to unemployed persons has risen in excess of 2.4. So from 0.55, it is now in excess of 2.4. There are now more jobs than there are local jobseekers. Minister Tan said that 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. It is thus timely to adjust the job advertisement period back to 14 days, he shared. However, employers are still expected to fairly consider all applicants who apply within this window. 

Option of five-year EP for experienced tech professionals on the Shortage Occupation List

Lastly, Minister Tan also touched on the option of a five-year EP introduced for experienced tech professionals in areas of skills shortages, and if this option of a five-year EP could also be extended to non-tech professionals in the sustainability sector.

For the time being, MOM has limited the option of a five-year EP to tech roles, for which there is "an acute shortage of talent globally". However, this is not to say that other sectors cannot benefit, Minister Tan pointed out.

"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. We are watching the sustainability space closely as it develops, and will refine our policies when needed."

Helping locals succeed and compete strongly

Minister Tan next to talk about MOM's efforts to develop the local workforce, and in particular, the local leadership pipeline: "Our policies to attract global talent are also meant to accelerate the development of our own local talent pool."

As such, MOM designed its foreign workforce policies to incentivise companies to develop a strong local workforce – COMPASS, for instance, takes into account a firm’s local PMET share when evaluating its EP applications.

MOM will also complement this with investments in local workers, to help them succeed.

The Industry Transformation Maps mapped out growth plans for 23 sectors across the economy. For each of these 23 sectors, MOM has identified in-demand jobs and developed jobs and skills strategies to build up the local talent pipeline for these jobs.

Further, MOM also launched Jobs Transformation Maps, to provide job-level insights on the impact of technology on the industry and workforce. With these insights, companies can redesign and enhance job roles, and equip their workers with the skills needed for these roles.

Working closely with industries and unions, the Government has spared no effort to help employers and workers to upskill and reskill for jobs of the future. A wide range of programmes is offered by Workforce Singapore, SkillsFuture Singapore and the various sector agencies to support training.

Referring to MPs' earlier statements, Minister Tan commented: "I echo Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Patrick Tay, and Mr Lim Biow Chuan’s views on the importance of building up our local bench strength when it comes to top leadership positions. One key priority is increasing the global and regional exposure of our local talent, so that they can take up leadership positions in global firms."

"Leadership development must fundamentally be driven by our businesses. The business community is also doing its part to nurture promising Singaporeans."

The Singapore Business Federation has taken the lead to form an Alliance for Action (AfA) on Business Leadership Development. According to Minister Tan, this AfA brings together businesses and local leaders to look into ways to cultivate conducive conditions for Singapore talent to strengthen regional exposure and assume key leadership roles in enterprises. The AfA will also draw upon the diverse experiences from business and academia to help Singaporeans broaden their networks and learn progressive leadership practices.

The above aside, Minister Tan spoke about skills transfer as a way to build up local expertise. Today, companies have programmes to get more experienced employees, foreign or local, to transfer skills to "less experienced" employees.

As he shared, "it is in their interest to do so, for business resilience and sustainability. They can also tap on various Government programmes, including SkillsFuture, the Enterprise Development Grant and the Capability Transfer Programme. At Budget this year, DPM Lawrence Wong, also the Minister for Finance, also announced that S$70mn has been set aside for the NTUC Company Training Committee (CTC) Grant. Companies that set up CTCs can tap on this grant for their business and workforce transformation projects."

Lastly, Minister Tan touched on the possibility of codifying training and skills transfer requirements into law.

"I would caution against too deterministic an approach. Skills transfer is but one way that foreign manpower can contribute to Singapore and create opportunities for Singaporeans. In some areas, foreign manpower helps to make up the gap between demand and supply – some of these gaps continue to persist due to local and global trends, for instance, the global lack of digital talent."

As the Minister shared, skills transfer is another way they can make a meaningful contribution, though this can take many forms – in some cases, it would be to train up a local to take on their role. In others, it is to bring in expertise in a new area, to provide leadership and to level up many more Singaporeans.

"At the end of the day, skills transfer is not a simple or linear process – it would be impossible to come up with a single rule on how long it should take for skills to be transferred from one person to another, or how much skills to transfer, for that matter."

Therefore, MOM's approach is "not to set a mandatory requirement for skills transfer, but rather to put in place the right ecosystem of policies that incentivises businesses to select complementary foreign workers, while building up a strong 'Singaporean Core'."

This, the Minister added, includes keeping a tight labour market through regular updates to work pass criteria, alongside significant investments to help our workforce upskill and reskill.

The above information was shared during Minister Tan's Ministerial Statement during a Parliament sitting on Monday, 12 September 2022. Read the full statement, as well as the full set of Parliamentary questions raised by the MPs.


Lead image / Minister of Manpower Dr. Tan See Leng Facebook

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