Note: this article was written in October 2020 and is part of the Covid-19 Series
After the pandemic caused job layoffs, numerous Singaporeans became worried of competing with foreigners for their jobs. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated that, “Some [Singaporeans] feel unfairly treated when they see foreigners replacing them or taking up good jobs ahead of them”.
According to a survey of 2,000 respondents conducted by Reach (a government feedback unit), most Singaporeans are positive (35%) or neutral (51%) rather than negative (14%) about Singapore remaining open to hiring foreign professionals even during Covid. People who were unemployed were more likely to feel negative with job-related concerns.
In an effort to help some of its worried citizens, the Singapore government is encouraging companies in Singapore to hire locally instead of globally by increasing the minimum monthly salary for foreign workers to achieve a work visa.
The Employment Pass (type of work visa) allows foreign professionals to work in Singapore and since August 2020, the requirement to get an EP approved has been raised from SG$3,900 to SG$4,500/month. In some sectors, like the finance sector, the minimum salary is raised to an even higher benchmark. One of the foreign workers that we’ve spoken to had an experience where her company had to apply for her visa 7 times before she got approved to work in Singapore.
Despite this effort from the Singapore government, there are some who struggle to believe that the policy will be effective in convincing companies to withdraw from hiring global workers. Victor Mills, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, expressed his doubts and suggested that having data on the policy’s effectiveness would be good.
There are also concerns about the negative effects that the policy would have on sectors that would have a hard time with localization. The Singapore Business Federation explained that certain sectors may struggle in finding suitable Singaporeans for a position thereby being left to pay higher salaries for the foreign workers they need.
Also, many foreign workers still go through a struggle of not being able to apply to certain roles because of the strict rule policy in hiring local workers. Another foreign worker that we’ve spoken to lost his job during Covid. As he tries to find job opportunities during this time, many hiring managers and recruiters turn him down as soon as they find out that he is not a Singapore citizen or permanent resident.
It should be noted that while the government has implemented this policy, they are not by no means completely closing doors to international professionals who wish to work in their city-state. They acknowledge the contribution that the global talent has provided in creating more opportunities for Singaporeans and its economy. Many Singaporean citizens also share the same sentiment as the Reach survey revealed that 63% agree on the importance of Singapore being open to foreign workers, with 10% disagreeing, and 25% remaining neutral.
The government simply wants to help their own citizens first as they are struggling in their professional career due to the pandemic. Many experts say that the key is to balance the proportion of foreign workers and that the government needs to lead in making changes that could achieve this goal. OCBC chief economist, Selena Ling, said “There may be some industries and/or companies that have become accustomed to affordable foreign workers and need a nudge or more to change. That’s where policy comes in.”
The COVID-19 pandemic causes a tirade of problems for Singapore’s job market and it uncovers new challenges along with it. Hiring freezes and concerns in competing with foreign talent are just a few challenges that people in Singapore are dealing with right now.
Nevertheless, there are still many companies that thrive during the crisis and are hiring more employees due to the demand and opportunities brought by Covid (online shopping sector, technology companies, logistics, and food delivery). Thus, there are still many job opportunities for both locals and expats.
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