SINGAPORE — Last week, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng announced that starting from 1 September, companies hiring foreigners on an Employment Pass (EP) in Singapore must submit third-party verification proof for diploma-level and above qualifications.
The new mandatory verification will be enforced through the Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS), which assesses EP applications based on four attributes and two bonus criteria, with a minimum of 40 points required for an application to pass.
One of the attributes is educational qualifications, which can earn a maximum of 20 points per category for candidates with qualifications from “top-tier institutions.”
Currently, verification proof only has to be submitted if the candidate’s educational qualification is not from an accredited institution.
CNA reported that firms already implemented verification measures
On Thursday (9 March), Singapore mainstream media Channel News Asia reported that many firms in Singapore have already implemented measures to verify the educational qualifications of foreigners hired on EP.
Background screening companies told CNA that the verification process typically involves contacting the educational institution or authorised agent to confirm that the qualification is genuine.
If the institution has closed down, some companies, such as eeCheck, may explore other options, including contacting the local education bureau.
Multinational companies in Singapore also told CNA that their existing procedures include pre-employment checks, including on educational qualifications.
ExxonMobil said they have a “longstanding practice” of conducting screening and verification for successful applicants, adding that it will comply with any new measures the Government introduces for a “robust hiring process”.
OCBC’s senior vice-president of group human resources, Ms Jacinta Low, confirmed that third-party verification of educational qualifications is already in place for all candidates, regardless of nationality or employment status.
Previously, Members of Parliament from the Workers’ Party (WP) and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) have consistently called on the government to increase the scrutiny of the qualifications of foreign talent.
While the report by CNA suggests that local firms have already implemented measures to verify the educational qualifications of foreigners, it is important to note that there have been several instances over recent years of foreigners being exposed for using fake degrees to land jobs in Singapore.
Manav Bharti University fake degree scandal
For instance, readers might recall that in 2021 MOM conducted an investigation into 23 foreign individuals who had claimed educational qualifications from Manav Bharti University (MBU) in India.
Two Indian nationals were jailed, and 19 others were permanently barred from future employment in Singapore for using fake degrees to apply for work passes.
The scandal shocked the city-state, as MOM only started to investigate after news emerged in February 2021 that MBU had sold 36,000 fake degrees across 17 Indian states in over 11 years and that a number of its graduates are actually working in Singapore.
In one case, Mr Sutradhar Bijoy submitted his fake degree to MOM in his S Pass application in 2015 to work as an assistant warehouse manager in Singapore. MOM took some six years before discovering Bijoy’s fake degree.
Singapore authorities took nearly 25 years to discover fake degree from University of Punjab
In another case which was reported in August 2020, it took close to 25 years for the Singapore authorities to discover that Pakistani national Mohammad Sohail submitted a fake degree way back in 1995.
Sohail, who arrived in Singapore in 1995, submitted a fake degree from the University of Punjab to obtain his EP. He later used the same fake degree to apply for permanent residency (PR) in 1997, which was approved.
However, his fake degree was uncovered in 2019 and he was charged in 2019, nearly a quarter of century later. ICA told the media the offences were uncovered during “an internal check”.
Chinese National jailed for paying $14,000 for fake degree to obtain EP
Last year, a Chinese national, Yu Huajie has been sentenced to seven weeks’ jail for paying $14,000 for a fake degree certificate in hopes of eventually obtaining permanent residency in Singapore.
Mr Yu submitted false information to the Ministry of Manpower in his EP application and transferred $1 million to a man who promised to help him invest in a Singaporean company, Gashubin Engineering.
He agreed to obtain a false degree certificate to show that he had graduated from The Chubb Institute in the US with a bachelor’s degree in business management.
Mr Yu started applying for his EP in December 2018, and MOM later approved his application. He received between $5,000 and $10,000 a month from Gashubin as “salary” from 15 February 2019, to 16 March 2021, but was never employed by the company.
Investigations also revealed that a director of the company had promised to secure EP for foreign investors to validate their stay in Singapore.
Mikhy Brochez, used forged university degrees to get jobs at Temasek Polytechnic (TP)
In 2019, Mikhy Brochez, the foreigner at the centre of the Singapore’s HIV Registry leak, had in fact used forged university degrees to get jobs at Temasek Polytechnic (TP) and Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) when he was working in Singapore.
When TP was asked by the media how Brochez was able to be recruited by the school with forged degrees, a TP spokesman said, “Based on the documents that Brochez submitted in his job application in 2008, he met the job requirements.”
Brochez, who started working in Singapore in 2008, managed to impress TP so much that the institute even allowed him to set up a Child Psychology Clinic within the polytechnic, for him to provide consultancy and assessment services when he was with TP.
However, UK newspaper The Independent later uncovered that Brochez’s credentials were fake.
Indian-born Singapore citizen embroiled in controversy over suspected degree mill MBA on job application
In 2015, an Indian-born Singapore citizen Nisha Padmanabhan was embroiled in a controversy after she included her MBA degree in her job application. Her MBA was issued from the web-based Southern Pacific University (SPU), a suspected degree mill.
Ms Nisha was an employee of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), now called Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). After its initial investigations, IDA concluded that Ms Nisha “did not deceive” the statutory board as her MBA “was not a relevant certificate for her position in IDA”.
However, it later changed its position and said it was “continuing to look into” the matter, as public uproar continued.
At the end, IDA confirmed its position – that Ms Nisha’s employment was not based on considerations of her MBA degree “as her position required only a bachelor’s degree, and that it also considered her relevant skills and prior work experience”, according to the Straits Times.
In 2007, China national Hong Tao was arrested after it was found that his degree from the Anhui Institute of Electro Mechanics was fake. The man, who worked as an engineer in Singapore for eight years before his arrest, was granted PR in September 2006.
EP and S Pass holders increased 4.5% to 338,000
In May 2021, MOM said over the last five years, an average of 660 foreigners have been permanently barred each year from working in Singapore for submitting fake education qualifications in their work pass applications.
Over the same period, an average of eight foreigners each year were convicted and penalised by the courts for false declarations of educational qualifications.
Two years ago, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced an increment of the minimum wages for the S Passes and E Passes, which are now pegged at S$3,000 and S$5,000, respectively.
Even so, records by MOM shows that the number of EP, S Pass and Work Permit granted to foreigners have been, on average, steadily increasing since 2007.
MOM once said, “difficult to detect institutions such as MBU which are approved by the foreign authorities”
A MOM spokesperson once said about the MBU fake degree scandal: “it is difficult to detect institutions such as Manav Bharti University, which are approved by the foreign government’s authorities and issuing genuine degrees while selling fakes”.
MOM reiterated that employers have the “primary responsibility to ensure the authenticity and quality of the academic qualifications of the candidates they wish to hire”.
It is unclear how MOM intends to ensure that local firms thoroughly verify the legitimacy of the degrees submitted by EPs.