On Thursday (27 Aug), Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced a stricter work pass requirements for foreign PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) working in Singapore (‘Josephine Teo: General Election not the driving force behind stricter foreign work pass policy‘).
Under the new rules, minimum qualifying salaries for EP and S Pass holders will be raised from $3,900 to $4,500 and from $2,400 to $2,500 respectively. For foreign PMETs in the financial sector, it will be raised to $5,000.
When reporters asked Mrs Teo if MOM would consider implementing a quota for EPs, she replied that her ministry does not close off any policy options. But based on the desired employment outcomes, the aim is to help businesses to recover, and not to introduce major shocks to the current system.
“We shouldn’t go overboard. We should make sure they are meaningful adjustments that support local employment but not to the extent where it will impede a company’s ability to recover and grow within Singapore,” she said.
“Because we really do need the companies to expand opportunities. And so they must have access to the complement of skills and talent that they can find from anywhere, put them together, base it out of Singapore and make a success of it.”
In other words, she thinks that Singapore shouldn’t go overboard by implementing a quota system against foreign EP holders working here.
Ng Chee Meng proposes differentiated quota for EP holders at different salary levels
Meanwhile, NTUC also announced on Thursday (27 Aug) that it will step up to protect local PMETs, as part of “our ongoing efforts to strengthen the Singaporean Core and ensure the local workforce remains employable and relevant”. It added that it will set up a taskforce to “better understand PMEs’ needs” and to get “more PMEs to join NTUC as a collective voice”.
Speaking to reporters, NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng said that Singapore has perhaps reached a tipping point where some degree of “market failure” has occurred, causing middle-aged local PMETs to become more vulnerable.
Since about two years ago, more mature PMETs have been sharing their anxiety and frustrations with him as they find it hard to get a job if they are retrenched, Ng said. They also worry about job security while they are employed, he added.
Indeed, it’s common these days to see retrenched PMETs taking a very long time, if ever, to find proper employment again. Many gave up and were forced to drive Grab or cycle to do Grab deliveries.
Ng cautioned that a balance needs to be struck between the concerns of individual Singaporeans and the needs of the economy. He said, “If we get this balance wrong, either way our economy will not be at the optimal state to move forward.”
Nevertheless, he added that NTUC wants to work with the Government to review foreign manpower policy options. These could include a differentiated quota for EP holders at different salary levels, he said. At the moment, Singapore does not impose any quota on foreign EP holders working here.
Ng has been seen actively championing for Singaporean workers in recent times, ever since he was voted out from Parliament last month (‘Ng Chee Meng is proof that being booted out as MP and Minister works wonders‘). However, his proposal of having a differentiated quota for EP holders seems to go against the wishes of Mrs Teo of not implementing any quota restrictions for those EP foreign workers.
U.S. ensures foreign H-1B visa holders do not harm American workers
In the U.S., foreign PMETs who want to work there need to acquire a H-1B visa. It is the equivalent of an EP work pass in Singapore.
The H-1B visa allows American employers to petition for highly educated foreign professionals to work in “specialty occupations” that require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent. Jobs in fields such as mathematics, engineering, technology, and medical sciences often qualify. Typically, the initial duration of an H-1B visa classification is three years, which may be extended for a maximum of six years.
Before an employer applies for a H-1B visa for the foreign professional, the employer must take steps to ensure that hiring the foreign worker will not harm U.S. workers. Employers first must attest, on a labor condition application certified by the Department of Labor, that employment of the H-1B worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. Employers must also provide existing workers with notice of their intention to hire a H-1B foreign worker.
The number of H1-B visas issued each year is not controlled by the U.S. Administration but by Congress. Congress has limited the number of H-1Bs made available each year. The current annual statutory cap is 65,000 visas, with 20,000 additional visas for foreign professionals who graduate with a master’s degree or doctorate from a U.S. institution of higher learning. In recent years, the limit has been reached only a few days after the H1-B petition submission period begins. Still, U.S. Congress did not relax but steadily maintain the limit.
U.S. currently has about 330 million population. At 85,000 H-1B visas issued per year, this number only represents less than 0.03% of its population a year.