ST says number of local IT grads set to grow while CECA continues to import IT workers from India

The Straits Times reported today that the number of local university IT graduates is set to grow by two-thirds in 3 years’ time, which will go some way towards “plugging the gap in the sector” (‘Rising number of tech grads in Singapore set to plug gap in sector‘, 18 Nov).

The intake for infocomm and digital technology courses across the six local universities shot up from 1,250 in 2015 to 2,050 last year, according to data from Ministry of Education (MOE).

However, even as Singapore’s universities are producing more local IT graduates, the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) remains under enforcement. Under CECA, it allows for “movement of natural persons” between the India and Singapore:

  1. Professionals who are employed in 127 specific occupations are allowed entry and can stay for up to a year to “engage in a business activity as a professional”. The person would need to produce “letter of contract” from the party engaging the services of the said person.
  2. Intra-corporate transferees will be permitted entry and can work for up to 2 years. This can be extended to a total term of not more than 8 years;
  3. Business visitors who hold five-year multiple journey visas will be permitted entry for business purposes for up to 2 months, with an option to extend by an additional month; and
  4. Short-term service suppliers will be allowed entry to service their contracts for an initial period of 90 days.

For intra-corporate transferees, it is defined as an employee who has been employed for a period of not less than either six months in company and one year industry experience or three years industry experience immediately preceding the date of the application for entry.

There is also no quota requirement imposed on intra-corporate transferees, which means an Indian company can hire a whole “village” of staff and transfer them to Singapore 6 months later lock, stock and barrel.

Furthermore, under Article 9.3 of CECA, all the “intra-corporate transferees” are to be exempted from any “labour market testing” or “economic needs testing”. That means, economic needs testing like Singapore’s fair consideration framework which ensures fair hiring of Singaporeans cannot be applied to “intra-corporate transferees”.

To top it all, Article 9.6 even allows the “intra-corporate transferees” to bring in their spouses or dependents to work here too.

High number of IT occupations identified for Indian IT professionals to work in Singapore

And under the professional category, the professionals are allowed to work in the host country for a year as long as he or she could produce a “letter of contract” showing that his or her service has been engaged. That means to say, these professionals can work as contract workers for a year in the host country.

However, CECA did not say if they can come back to the host country to work again under a new contract for another year after their current contract ends.

Among the 127 specific occupations identified in CECA, at least 19 belong to the IT category:

  1. System Designer & Analyst
  2. Network System & Data Communication Analyst
  3. Software Engineer
  4. Computer and Information Systems Manager
  5. Computer Operations and Network Manager
  6. Application Programmer
  7. Systems Programmer
  8. Multi-media Programmer
  9. Network System & Database Administrator
  10. Database Administrator
  11. Information Technology Auditor
  12. Information Technology Security Specialist
  13. Information Technology Quality Assurance Specialist
  14. Electronics Engineer
  15. Telecommunications Engineer
  16. Computer Engineer
  17. Computer Systems Engineer
  18. Computer Applications Engineer
  19. Computer Hardware Design Engineer

That means to say, Indian IT professionals under these 19 categories can work in Singapore as contract staff for a year, with possibility of constant contract renewals every year.

Recently, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing assured that Indian professionals working in Singapore are subjected to work pass qualification. He said, “Indian professionals, like any other professionals from other countries, have to meet MOM’s existing qualifying criteria to work in Singapore. This applies to Employment Pass, S Pass, and work permit.”

But he forgot to mention that under Employment Pass (EP), there is no quota requirement for foreigners. The minimum salary to qualify for EP is only $3,600 a month.

So, as long as large number of Indian IT graduates continue to flood Singapore, the local IT graduates trained by the 6 universities will have an uphill task competing.

Also, with the huge supply of IT workers from India, the salaries in IT industry in Singapore can only be continually depressed, which further discourages Singaporean students from taking up IT in universities. The whole situation becomes a vicious cycle.

It’s not known if DPM Heng Swee Keat, the person who led the Singapore team in negotiating CECA with India back when he was the permanent secretary of MTI more than 15 years ago, has foreseen this at the time.


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