Last month, after the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) government lost 2 GRCs in the recent general election, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) announced to raise the minimum salary requirements for foreign PMETs working in Singapore. Foreigners on Employment Pass (EP) will need to have a minimum monthly salary of $4,500, up from $3,900.
For EP holders in the financial sector, they will have to be paid at least $5,000 from 1 December. For mid-skilled foreigners on S Pass, the qualifying salary will be raised from $2,400 to $2,500, starting from 1 Oct.
The purpose is to push employers to hire more locals, especially when the Singapore economy is currently being affected by the pandemic crisis.
However, some academics have criticised that being inward-looking is not the way forward. They said the government is practising “protectionism”.
In interviews published on Straits Times today (‘Concerns of the Singapore worker: Singapore’s growing local-foreigner divide‘, 27 Sep), NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that the way to protect the Singaporean core is not to practise protectionism, but to help more Singaporeans rise up by acquiring in-demand expertise. That is, Dr Tan is asking Singaporeans to go for more trainings.
Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) economist Walter Theseira commented that “there is no globally successful city that does not use migration” to expand the quantity and quality of its workforce.
While it is possible to just adopt a low migration policy, Singapore would be left with a declining labour force due to the ageing population, and be “limited to only the skills we can train from the local population”, he added.
Over importation of “foreign talents”
Still, for many years, Singaporeans did not complain about the influx of “foreign talents” working in Singapore. In fact, some of the PAP politicians, like ex-Malaysians Khaw Boon Wan, Lee Bee Wah, Irene Ng and so on, were foreign talents who started out their careers in Singapore in the 80s.
In was only in recent years that Singaporeans begin to complain about the over-importation of “foreign talents” into Singapore – so much so that some have been ousted from their workplace by these so-called “foreign talents”.
For example, in March this year, a Singaporean PMET working for Refinitiv Asia (the Financial & Risk business branch of Thomson Reuters Asia) claimed to TOC that she had been “unfairly” retrenched in favour of a foreigner (‘Woman retrenched in favour of foreign talent, MOM says it can’t help‘).
According to data from the government, in 2007, Singapore’s overall population was 4.6 million with 3.1 million Singaporeans. By 2019, it has increased to 5.7 million with only 3.5 million Singaporeans. That is to say, the Singapore’s overall population increased by 24% in 12 years but the population of Singaporeans increased by only 12%.
Correspondingly, the number of foreign PMETs (EP and S Pass holders) increased from 143,700 in 2007 to 393,700 in 2019, or an increase of 174%.
So, with the population of Singaporeans increased by 12%, the number of foreign PMETs increased by a whopping 174%. One could ask how Singaporeans not notice the increase of “foreign talents” in their midst?
Hence, by tightening the work pass criteria, Singapore is not trying to practise “protectionism” but rather to deal with the over-importation of “foreign talents”. It’s akin to someone who has over-eaten his food and he is now forced to deal with the indigestion in his body.