With the current downturn looming and with the ruling party just lost 2 GRCs in the recent General Election (GE), the government has tightened the recruitment of foreign expats working in Singapore.
In Aug, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) announced to raise the minimum salary requirements for foreign PMETs working here.
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 Dec. For mid-skilled foreigners on S Pass, the qualifying salary was also raised from $2,400 to $2,500. The purpose is to push employers to hire more locals.
Even before the Manpower Ministry announcement, in a live televised debate among the political parties during GE in Jul, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told everyone that “the only reason we have foreigners here is to give an extra wind in our sails when the opportunity is there… Now we are in a storm, and we need to shed ballast”. The next day, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo described foreign workers as serving as a “buffer” in uncertain times.
Understandably, with the government tightening the policy to recruit foreign expats now, many of them are feeling the heat. Straits Times (ST) interviewed some of the foreign expats to get their feedback in an article published today (‘Singapore’s reputation for being open to talent at risk?‘, 11 Oct).
Foreign expat disappointed with PAP Minister
A British shipping professional, who wanted to be known only as Tom, told ST that he was disappointed when Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang told Parliament that employers should give preference to Singaporeans, and where retrenchment was necessary, to “retain the Singaporean over the foreigner”.
“The message the Government is sending to people like me is, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here, or how much tax you’ve paid; when things aren’t going well, we’re just going to (let you go),” he said.
“If I leave, it’ll be because Singapore has become a country that’s not welcoming anymore.”
Tom also mentioned that while volunteering as a counsellor, he recently encountered three clients who asked why he was “taking a Singaporean’s job” – even though he was merely volunteering for the role.
Tom warned that the perception of Singapore becoming more isolated and inward-looking has already taken root.
“I know three companies which were looking at shifting to Singapore, then this all started… and they began wondering if they really wanted to go to a country that’s going to have so many restrictions in terms of employment,” he said. “They decided to go to Shanghai instead.”
On the other hand, others were grateful to still have a job here. A Bangladeshi analyst, who wanted to be known only as Manas, said the precarious nature of being an expatriate pales in comparison to the potential concerns he could face back in his home country, which remains one of the poorest in the world.
“In terms of social security and job opportunities, coming from that reality, Singapore is a way better place to try and build your future,” said the 25-year-old work pass holder. “Even if it’s not Singapore, I would still not want to go back to where I came from.
“Maybe I’ll look for some other country to settle in, where immigration laws might be a little easier or less competitive.”
S’porean PMET: I just need a job to move on with my life
Meanwhile, Singaporean PMETs continue to struggle to find jobs in their own home country.
One of them interviewed by the local media was Jeff (not his real name), 49. He became unemployed in October last year after he was retrenched from a multinational manufacturing company. While looking for a new job, he sent out over 500 job applications to numerous companies but only got 1 response (‘Retrenched SG gets only 1 response from 500 job applications; Heng says to “upskill”‘).
And this was even after he began applying for jobs that offered about $2,000 a month, which is about one third of his $5,900 monthly pay he used to get while working for a multinational company.
“I have worked for 26 years and so far I’ve only joined three companies. I’m not a job hopper, I’m not the kind to leave for higher pay… It’s very simple, I just need a job to move on with my life,” said Jeff.
Jeff needed to get a job quickly because he has a wife, two children and his parents to support at home. Unlike Tom and Manas who can return back to their home countries like UK and Bangladesh respectively, Jeff has no where else to fall back to.