Last week, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) finally released its foreign workforce numbers.

The figures show that even though the number of foreign PMETs on Employment Pass (EP) decreased slightly in the last 2 years from 192,300 to 185,800, the total number of foreign PMETs (i.e, those on EP and S Pass) was increasing:

2013 336,000
2014 349,000
2015 366,500
2016 372,000
2017 372,100
2018 381,300

In particular, the number of foreign PMETs on EP and S Pass hit a total of 381,300 by the end of last year, with no sign of abating.

Comparing figures from 2017 to 2018, even though number of foreign PMETs on EP decreased by 1,900, the number of S Pass holders actually shot up by 11,100, hitting a new high at 195,500:

One of the reasons for the decrease in number of EP holders vs that of S Pass holders could be because of the lower salary requirement of $2,300 for foreign S Pass holders. For foreign EP holders, the minimum is now at least $3,600. Both require the foreign applicants to have suitable qualifications.

Companies try to apply Work Permit for foreign PMETs instead

In a new worrisome trend, some companies are now even applying Work Permits for their foreign PMETs, in an attempt to bring them in at below $2,300 or to circumvent the S-Pass quota. The Work Permit traditionally is meant for semi-skilled foreign workers to work in sectors like construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard, process and service industries.

Take for example, a foreign PMET recently posted on the Singapore Expat Forum revealing that he is trying to obtain a Work Permit to work in Singapore despite being a “skilled” IT personnel.

Apparently, he studied in some school in Singapore and graduated with a diploma in IT in December. Thereafter, he successfully applied for a, presumably, IT job here and was offered a salary of $2,400 a month by a company.

The company said that he would not be eligible for EP or S-Pass and is trying to employ him by applying for a Work Permit.

“I am so worried. How many chances that my work permit will be approved?” the foreigner asked.

Since the salary offered to the foreign applicant is above the $2,300 minimum for S Pass holders, one can only assume that perhaps the company has exceeded its S Pass quota allotment.

Under the quota stipulated by MOM, the number of S Pass holders a company can hire is capped at 15% of the company’s total workforce in the services sector or 20% for the other sectors.

Meanwhile, many of the retrenched but highly qualified Singaporean PMETs are resorting to driving Grab or taxi to survive, like this Singaporean who was interviewed by last year.

He used to earn $15,000 a month working for a pharma company as its regional Training, Sales and Marketing Manager before scaling down to $5,000 working for an Indian start-up. Finally, he ended up driving a cab, taking home $2,000 to $3,000 a month.

“After the retrenchment, was hired as Business Development Manager for a new Indian start-up company and after 6 months of showing all my contacts and connections, I was told to either resign or they would find a reason to fire me. Pay was around $5,000 a month,” he told his story to

“Searching for a job has been difficult from using connections to head hunters to papers and online portals. Sent so many applications but no response. Went for a few interviews and in the end never get an offer. I have already given up on job hunting.”


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