Public criticises the government’s move to allow hiring more top foreign talents instead of locals

On Thursday (1 August), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the two-year programme planned to entice foreign tech talent to work in Singapore may be opened to other industries, apart from the technology-driven ones.

While speaking to Bloomberg Television, Mr Chan said that he is all set to extend the programme to other fields, without actually naming the areas.

By offering increased flexibility in Employment Pass (EP) applications, the scheme would easily allow qualifying companies in industries like digital, medical technology (medtech) and financial technology (fintech) to bring in foreign talents.

“Singapore has never limited top talent coming into Singapore,” Mr Chan said, but he highlighted that the government has been “tightening” its intake for lower-and mid-skilled workers so it can be more manpower-lean.

The former army general explained, “These are the people we are looking at who can run huge project teams of hundreds and thousands of programmers. These are the people who can take technology companies to the next lap,”

However, he noted: “These are not people competing with the average Singaporean, these are the people who are competing for Singapore.”

Following a poor 0.1% year-on-year growth that was announced for the second quarter of the year, the Minister said that he still remains “quietly confident” of Singapore’s outlook. However, he added that “the government will be ready to step in and help our companies and businesses adjust if need be.”

“In a world where there might be a bifurcation or a fragmentation of the global trading system, our job is to make sure that Singapore businesses can continue to access opportunities across the entire globe,” he said, emphasising the government’s effort to sign as many free-trade agreements with other countries.

If that is not all, President Donald Trump recently revealed in a tweet that seven of the world’s 10 wealthiest economies claim developing country status and argued that these nations “avoid WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules and get special treatment”. One of the seven countries is Singapore.

In response to this, Mr Chan noted that the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer knew Singapore’s position on its developing-nation status, adding that the city-state does know take advantage of its status to gain benefits.

The WTO offers special privileges to governments of developing nations like longer timelines for implementing free-trade commitments and the capability to safeguard domestic industries by restricting imports.

“As far as our work with the US is concerned, we don’t avail ourselves to the special and differential treatment,” Mr Chan said.

After reading what Mr Chan had to say about opening up more opportunities to bring in only top-level foreign talents into Singapore so that they do not compete with average Singaporeans, retired banker Chris Kuan took to his Facebook to raise a few questions regarding this.

He pointed out that the main problem now is that the “new fangled” EP approvals still states that the minimum qualifying salary remains S$3,600, which is below Singaporean median salary”. This means that the low qualifying salary for EP applicants show that it is meant for lower-and mid-level workers, contrary to what Mr Chan claimed.

As such, Mr Kuan said that he understands “that there will be ‘frontier technology’ professionals who do not mind working for a cheap salary that is even below the qualifying amount so long as they are given equity stake in the company”.

But, apart from equity holders, the retired banker stressed that no professional will accept jobs with such low qualifying salary.

“If this EP super highway is really meant to hire ‘frontier technology’ professionals who don’t compete with the average Singaporean, then make sure the qualifying minimum is at least double, if not triple,” he suggested.

He added, “Those willing to go for less in exchange for equity stake can be approved on case by case. Otherwise, it is ripe for abuse and one might get the personal assistant of the chief Al developer through this new fangled EP process.”

Apart from Mr Kuan, other netizens also slammed the government on TODAY’s Facebook page for it’s move to bring in more top foreign talent into Singapore. Some of them stated that there are plenty of “experienced local talent who are valuable gems to coach the next generation” but the government chose to bring in foreigners to compete for Singapore on a short term.

Kelvin Tan questions the need to bring foreign talent when Singapore can actually opt to train locals to become a talent, emphasising that not everything is about cost cutting.

A large group of them also said that there must be something wrong with the country’s education system as it’s surprising that Singapore can’t produce top talents, resulting to the government seeking foreigners for the jobs. Some said the school system is stressful, but it lacks creativity and entrepreneurial development.

Chien Ronnie added that apart from the education system, something must be wrong with Singapore’s training and upgrading systems as no local top talents can be produced. As such, the Facebook user said that “we should not be paying our Ministers all these years million dollars salaries for failing us to produce our own Top Talents”.