South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that foreign expats in Singapore are struggling to make ends meet while others have seen their jobs disappear, as companies are cutting back due to the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (‘In Singapore, expatriates hit by coronavirus pay cuts, lay-offs fear for future‘, 11 Jun).
The report highlights the situation of foreign expats facing employment uncertainty, with some who have already lost their jobs.
According to some estimates, Singapore economy could shrink up to 7 per cent this year – a level not seen since the independence of Singapore in 1965. Economists are forecasting that as many as 200,000 people will be out of work by the end of the year, far more than the 40,000 who were made redundant during the global financial crisis of 2008.
About 1.7 million foreigners live in Singapore. Almost one million are migrant workers in low-paid jobs while 400,000 are foreign PMETs – holders of Employment Pass (minimum salary S$3,900 and S-Pass (minimum salary S$2,400).
Sabrina, the wife of an expat who only wish to give her first name, shares how her husband was told by the company that he would be sent back to the US.
“I was in shock and denial and very angry,” Sabrina said. “Basically, all families from the company were being asked to repatriate and only essential people that needed to stay to continue the business in Singapore or with China would remain.”
Her husband used to manage the China operations of his company, which provides electronics manufacturing services. The couple had to take their 2 children out from school in Singapore while she prepares to homeschool them back in the US.
However, she expressed confidence in Singapore’s handling of the pandemic and said she would happily stay if she could.
Another foreign expat reportedly had his pay cut from S$7,500 to S$6,000. The wife, Martha Liv, now struggles to balance the home expenses.
A request to reduce their S$2,700 rental was rejected by their landlord. She has to find ways to stretch the remainder of her husband’s pay check. She now shops at the wet markets like the locals do, instead of high-end supermarkets. She buys regional ingredients rather than those imported from the West and manages the household while looking after their 17-month-old son without domestic help.
“It’s not cheap living here,” Martha said. “We’re taking from our savings for our normal expenses. How many months can you live on your savings?”
But at least her husband still has a job. Yet, there is still much insecurity among the expat community, according to Martha, whose husband works in the travel industry.
Meanwhile, many Singaporeans are also suffering amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Singaporean wanted to be known as Mr Tan, told the media that he was retrenched in March from his role as a manager at a business tourism company. Tan was with the company for five-and-a-half years, taking home about S$5,000 a month.
Not only he has 2 teenage sons to feed, he has his 89-year-old mum’s kidney dialysis treatment to pay for, as well as two domestic helpers – one to take care of his 88-year-old dad, who has prostate cancer and dementia.
“No one knows when this virus will be gone,” Tan said, adding that he now wonders how long it will take to find a suitable job with a decent salary with the current state of the industry. Tan’s morale has taken a drastic hit.
Then, there is Lim Jialiang, 29, was expecting to start a new job as a local sales representative for an Australian brewery, but it fell through as the outbreak unfolded.
“I basically have no income now,” he said. Lim is living off his savings, which will last him three months, as well as loans from friends.
Arts administrator Ke Weiliang finished a contract with a local performing arts company, only to find that all other openings had dried up. He now does GrabFood delivery on foot, working as many as 12 hours a day for as little as $40.
“It will take some time for the performing arts to get back on track as the public may not be allowed to gather in crowds for some time,” he said. “I may have to find work outside of the arts in another full-time position like copywriting. Either that, or get a bicycle.”
In any case, if things do not work out, those foreign expats at least can return back to their native country. Singaporeans, on the other hand, have to make do and compete for jobs with the 400,000 foreign PMETs on this little red dot.