At a dialogue organised by the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) yesterday (9 Mar), Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say assured the 700 company officials attending the event that companies will have some leeway to bring in foreign professionals if they meet specified conditions.
These foreign PMETs should have skills that are in demand and are "lacking" locally. Companies must also consider Singaporeans "fairly" when hiring, he said.
But he did not elaborate how MOM would determine if a skill is "lacking" locally.
And by considering Singaporeans "fairly", the Minister is talking about getting companies to put up job advertisements for 2 weeks in the Jobs Bank meant for locals before they could hire foreigners on Employment Pass (EP).
Many netizens have commented that the Jobs Bank is useless and merely serves as an "excuse" for companies to recruit foreigners.
EP holders need to have good academic qualifications or "special skills"
Foreigners on EP are supposed to be paid at least $3,600 a month and have good academic qualifications or "special skills".
However, there have been cases uncovered where foreigners were providing false salary information with dubious qualifications in order to obtain work passes to work in Singapore.
For example, MOM itself highlighted this case in 2014 when 22 foreigners were caught obtaining their work passes fraudulently to work in 7-Eleven.
50,000 EPs issued per year
To moderate the growth of the foreign workforce here, Minister Lim said that his ministry has tightened EP requirements in recent years.
He revealed that the approval rate for new EP applications is about 80 per cent, with about 50,000 new passes being issued annually over the last three years.
At the same time, a similar number of 50,000 passes were not renewed yearly, he said.
But looking at MOM's own published figures, the number of foreigners on EP appears to grow year after year:
2012 - 173,800
2013 - 175,100 (+0.7%)
2014 - 178,900 (+2.2%)
2015 - 187,900 (+5.0%)
2016 - 192,300 (+2.3%)
(2017 figure not available on MOM website yet)
"We are trying our very best to design the foreign manpower policy to, on the one hand, maximise our economic gains from the foreign workforce and, on the other hand, minimise social pain," Minister Lim said.
But he also assured employers, "Our door remains open to foreign professionals, especially those with the skills needed for businesses to transform, and at the same time have skills which are in short supply in Singapore."