“It could be worse”: expat relief at Singapore work visa rules

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“It could be worse”: expat relief at Singapore work visa rules

Most foreign finance and tech professionals wanting to work in Singapore need not fear the Republic’s new Employment Pass (EP) rules when they fully kick in from next year. High salaries and skill levels in the finance sector should ensure most applicants are still approved, say recruiters.  

From September 2023, EP applicants must score sufficient points under a new COMPASS (Complementarity Assessment Framework) points system in order to work in Singapore. Points are given not just for salary and qualifications, but also for the nationality diversity of the hiring firm and its support for local employment.

One expat finance professional says he’s not worried about his EP renewal. “It could be worse – the rules sound sensible overall,” he adds.

Rumi Mohd, a senior manager at Randstad, believes that the new work visa scoring system will not necessarily make it harder for applications to go through. He cited Manpower Minister Tan See Leng’s statement during a parliamentary debate, that a majority of applications “would not have issues” passing Compass. According to Mohd, COMPASS’ main objective seems to be in ensuring that individuals have the necessary skills and expertise to perform job tasks.

“The progressive manpower policies are in line with business policies, which would evaluate the applicant’s skills requirements and job specifications, as well as experience to perform the job,” says Mohd.

Meanwhile, another recruiter says the EP changes will hardly impact his business, as foreigners now only make up 1% of his agency’s total professional, managerial, executive and technical (PMET) placements. “We focus only on local PMETs as that is where the market needs are,” he adds.

On the other hand, some firms “would need to make adjustments”, said Minister Tan in Parliament, adding that they “would know exactly which areas to improve on”.

Some of these firms could include crypto companies, a number of which currently operate relatively lean outfits. This “could tilt the [local vs foreign] workforce ratio more significantly compared to larger firms”, says Randstad’s Mohd.

Nevertheless, Mohd thinks that COMPASS is a “rather flexible scoring system”, thanks to the additional bonus criteria – for example, around in-demand skills – that can also factor into the approval process.

The changes to EP policy also include a raising of the minimum salary levels from this September. Financial services rates are set slightly higher than those for other sectors. Applicants will have to earn at least S$5.5k a month if they are junior, or S$11.5k if they are middle aged.

Ultimately, as Tan mentioned in his speech, the latest changes are “not intended as a tightening criteria”. Rather, they are “part of MOM's regular updates” to ensure that qualifying salary levels keep up with local wage growth, “so that foreigners are not coming in just because they are cheaper than local PMETs”.

In fact, most existing work visa holders will not be affected under the latest changes, as they earn "well above the qualifying salary", said Tan.

Photo by Namcha ph on Unsplash

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