On Tuesday (6 July), Facebook page The Alternative View shared one of its readers’ personal experience on how the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) has resulted in an influx of individuals from India being hired in a foreign bank here.
This is, however, contrary to what People’s Action Party’s (PAP) ministers Ong Ye Kung and Tan See Leng said in their ministerial statement in Parliament on Tuesday.
In the post, the netizen, who is addressed as a concerned Singaporean, expressed his anger after reading what Mr Ong and Dr Tan said in their ministerial statements.
“This bunch of idiots and their MOM minions dare say the CECA has not allowed a free movement of Indian nationals in S’pore’s PMET segment? I want to call out their bullshit based on my personal experience,” said the netizen.
He explained that he had worked in the financial industry for 15 years and witnessed himself how Indian ‘professionals’ began entering the industry from around 2007. In just a few years, the numbers grew and became a “flood”, said the netizen.
CECA between Singapore and India was signed in 2005.
The netizen went on to that while he was working in this foreign bank (which was not named in the post), he saw certain departments were filled with just Indian nationals.
For example, one of the departments had 23 staff, out of which 22 were from India and the remaining one was a Chinese who is based in Hong Kong, he said.
“The investment and retail side were also dominated by Indian nationals. Not surprising because the heads of both divisions were also from India. And on top of them, there was an overall Chief Executive of Asia who was also from India.
“This certainly validates the anecdotal observation that these people hire their own and what better place than S’pore to do this, with the CECA allowing them to transfer their compatriots in under the Intra-Corporate Transfer route,” the Singaporean expressed.
As such, he stressed that it is not a “joke” when people refer Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC) as Mumbai Financial Centre or Changi Business Park (CBF) as Chennai Business Park.
Over time, the Singaporean was so “dismayed” at this situation that he decided to leave the workplace.
“Nothing much has changed since I left. You just need to go LinkedIn to look through the employees of many foreign banks to see for yourself,” he said.
He added, “Given tonight’s rhetoric by the PAP ministers, I really doubt things will change for the better. The real solution to this is to have a stronger Opposition presence in the Parliament to force the PAP to account for their policies and decisions. We can’t afford to let them have even half a blank cheque now.”
CECA doesn’t allow Indian nationals free entry to Singapore
While speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Ong said that Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and CECA have not curtailed the power of immigration authorities to regulate the entry of foreign professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs) into Singapore under such agreements.
The Health Minister, who delivered his ministerial statement on the issues of FTAs and CECA in the context of his background as a former trade negotiator in the civil service, said that the Government “retains full rights” to determine who can enter, live, work, and obtain permanent resident status in Singapore.
He also dismissed Progress Singapore Party’s claim that the 127 categories of professionals listed in CECA allow Indian nationals to flock to Singapore to work freely, saying that all foreign PMETs have to meet all of the relevant criteria set by the government to enter for employment purposes.
Further, allowing foreign PMETs to apply does not indicate automatic approval by the Singapore authorities.
FTAs, said Mr Ong, has enabled the Economic Development Board to utilise such agreements to attract greater foreign investment into Singapore.
Mr Ong also stressed that Singapore’s reliance on trade and related agreements is a question of survival, given the city-state’s small size and lack of natural resources.
As for the presence of foreign PMETs, Mr Ong said it cushions the negative impact on the local workforce during an economic downturn, other than becoming a complementary segment of Singapore’s manpower landscape.
Local employment, he added, has been stable.
Acknowledging that certain sectors have a high concentration of PMETs of certain countries of origin, such as Indian national tech professionals in Changi Business Park, Mr Ong said that the government is “taking this seriously and seeing what we can do to lessen the problem”.
However, he stressed that it is not a straightforward matter of axing their companies’ operations, fearing that such a move would drive away current and potential future foreign investments.
Manpower Minister only reveals data of ICT for 2020
In his Ministerial Statement, Dr Tan only revealed the number of intra-corporate transferees (ICTs) from India last year, which was a COVID-19 year. According to Dr Tan, there were 4,200 ICTs working in Singapore last year, of which 500 were brought in from India.
ICTs are overseas employees at an MNC transferred to their Singapore’s office to work. Companies that want to fill a role with an ICT are exempted from the Fair Consideration Framework requirement that requires firms to advertise jobs on the National Jobs Bank.
But they must meet the prevailing work pass criteria before they are allowed to work here, Mr Tan said. “None of our FTAs, including the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca), gives intra-corporate transferees unfettered access to our labour market,” he added.
“If they have brought in dependants, the dependants do not have automatic rights to work here. They can only do so if they qualify for a work pass on their own merits,” he said.
Furthermore, Tan also forgot to add that the rule was changed only recently several months ago. ICTs now can no longer bring their family members with them via dependant’s passes or long-term visit passes, something which was permitted all along. And in the past, dependants were allowed to work in Singapore.
According to the Population White Paper, around 30,000 Permanent Residents and 20,000 new citizens are granted each year on average for the past couple of years. It is unknown how many of these Work Pass holders were converted and whether they are included in the figures provided by the Minister.