The primary laws governing foreign manpower in Singapore are:
Following the introduction of the Fair Consideration Framework in 2014, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) together with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) promotes the adoption of fair, responsible, and progressive employment practices, which directly impacts MOM's review of work pass applications. TAFEP was established together with the National Trade Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation in 2007. Elements of the TAFEP Guidelines in relation to the Fair Consideration Framework which have a particular bearing on corporate immigration are those requiring employers to not discriminate based on race, gender, age, religion or marital status during the advertisement, recruitment and selection process. While these remain guidelines, the importance attached to these processes by MOM can result in work permit privileges being curtailed for those employers considered to hold discriminatory practices.
Specific rules for apply for work permits in the following sectors:
Work permits may be obtained only for workers from certain source countries. The employer must also meet the work permit requirements, including those relating to:
MOM is the government ministry that is responsible for the formulation and implementation of labour policies relating to the workforce in Singapore. In this capacity, MOM retains authority to oversee matters relating to corporate immigration, and consequently, the issue of relevant passes – including an employment pass – to foreign professionals.
The EFMA regulates the employment of foreign employees and protects their wellbeing.
The EFMA sets out the criminal offences relating to illegal working. These include:
The penalties for employing a foreign employee without a valid work permit include a fine of between S$5,000 and S$30,000, imprisonment for up to one year or both. For subsequent convictions, offenders face mandatory imprisonment and a fine of between S$10,000 and S$30,000.
Foreign nationals may enter Singapore as a business visitor for a limited duration if the purpose of the visit is to conduct allowable business visitor activities. Most foreign nationals are eligible to obtain a Short-Term Visit Pass (STVP) upon arrival in Singapore and may perform business activities with an STVP.
Nationals from certain restricted countries must obtain an entry visa prior to entering Singapore. When a restricted national arrives in Singapore, immigration officials will issue am STVP with the duration indicated on the entry visa – typically between 30 and 60 days.
Singapore is a member of the Asian Pacific Economic Council (APEC). Foreign nationals in possession of a valid APEC business travel card endorsed with "Valid for travel to SGP" are permitted to enter Singapore without a visa to conduct business activities.
Business visitors may attend training courses or workshops without further notification to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). A business visitor who is a trainer or speaker at a training course or workshop must notify MOM for a work pass exemption (WPE) or obtain a Miscellaneous Work Pass. On-the job training requires a work pass.
The period of stay granted is subject to the discretion of the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) officer at the point of entry. The typical period of stay granted ranges from 30 to 90 days; however, in some cases, this may be as short as 14 days.
A business visitor may typically engage in limited activities such as:
You can perform certain short-term work activities in Singapore without a work pass. However, you can only do so for certain activities and you must notify MOM when you arrive.
Requirements for a WPE: You must:
The 11 listed categories of WPE activities are as follows:
Certain specific restrictions apply to each category; however, a general provision is that an activity must not relate to either:
Duration: You are allowed to perform a WPE activity for any number of visits, up to a total of 90 days in a calendar year (eg, three stints of 30 days under WPE activities).
The duration for which you can perform a WPE activity during each visit to Singapore depends on the STVP issued at the point of entry at the checkpoints. Requests to extend the STVP for the purpose of performing a WPE activity will not be considered.
If you are a trainer or speaker at a training course or workshop, you will need to either notify MOM for a WPE or obtain a Miscellaneous Work Pass.
If you take up any on-the-job training, you will require a work pass.
In Singapore, the primary work authorisation is the Employment Pass (EP). There are three categories of EP, which are based on the foreign national's prospective position and experience. The categories and salaries of the EP will dictate whether the foreign national is eligible to sponsor dependants. The categories of EP include:
Candidates must earn at least S$4,500 a month and have acceptable qualifications. There is no clear definition of ‘relevant/acceptable qualifications'; but in general, these may include degrees, professional qualifications and/or specialised skills.
If the candidate is not eligible for an EP, he or she can submit an S Pass application, which allows mid-level skilled staff to work in Singapore. Candidates must earn at least S$2,500 a month and have the relevant qualifications and work experience.
The validity granted will be at the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) discretion.
The following categories of work passes may be issued by the controller:
No, language proficiency is not a formal requirement.
For the S Pass, a certain ratio of foreign nationals to local Singaporean nationals must be maintained. This ratio is called a ‘sub-dependency ceiling' and is set at:
The ceiling in all sectors continues to decrease annually.
Services sector: A company is considered to be operating in the services sector if it has registered any of the following as its principal business activity:
Such companies can employ migrant workers from the following countries or regions:
Additional requirements apply for hotel, retail and food and beverage businesses. To qualify as higher-skilled workers, non-Malaysian work permit holders working in these industries must also obtain level 4 in the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy listening and speaking assessments.
Process sector: The process sector includes plants involved in the manufacture of petroleum, petrochemicals, specialty chemicals and pharmaceutical products. The production processes of these plants involve specialised equipment and machinery. The construction and maintenance of production units within these plants, which are classified as process construction and maintenance (PCM) works, require niche skills and expertise.
Such works are carried out by PCM contractors. They work with the process plant owners and with engineering, procurement and construction companies to build and maintain the production units of the process plants.
Such companies can employ migrant workers from the following countries or regions:
NTS and PRC work permit holders in the process sector can only be employed as ‘PCM workers' or ‘PCM workers-cum-drivers'. They can engage only in work that requires the following skill sets:
Construction sector: Companies in the construction sector can employ migrant workers from the following countries or regions:
At least 10% of construction work permit holders must be higher-skilled (R1) before a company can hire any new basic-skilled (R2) construction workers or renew the work permits of existing R2 construction workers. The work permits of any excess R2 construction workers will also be revoked.
The process of applying to MOM for the relevant work pass requires the submission of:
The duration of the EP granted will be at the discretion of MOM, but typically will be up to two years for the initial application and a maximum of three years for renewals.
Work permit holders must comply with the following obligation:
If a work permit holder is found guilty of illegal employment, he or she can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed for up to two years. MOM will also debar him or her from working in Singapore.
Employers that employ foreigners without a valid work pass can be fined up to S$30,000 and jailed for up to 12 months. Their work pass privileges will also be suspended.
Eligibility: As a foreigner, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residence if you are:
To assess the applicant's ability to contribute to Singapore and integrate into Singaporean society, as well as his or her commitment to putting down roots in the country, the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA) takes into account factors such as the following:
These are some of the known factors for the assessment of an application; however, the weight attributed to each criterion is unknown, and the authorities may also consider other factors (eg, national service liability or enlistment for male children) and may seek input from other vetting agencies.
More details and a list of documents required are set out in this explanatory note.
The government fees associated with the PR application are S$100 per application upon submission of the application, followed by up to S$150 per person (this includes an entry permit, a five-year re-entry permit, an identity card and an entry visa upon issuance of the approved pass).
A PR application is submitted via the Electronic Permanent Residence (e-PR) system. When completing the online application form, ‘NA' must be keyed in for fields that are not applicable.
All applications for PR are carefully considered and reviewed by the ICA. Generally, PR applications take about six months to two years to process, provided that all the required documents are submitted. Depending on the complexity of the case, some applications may take more than six months to process.
Anyone who is working in Singapore on an EP or S Pass may submit a PR application to the ICA for consideration. He or she may include in the application his or her spouse and any unmarried children aged below 21 born to him or her within the context of a legal marriage, or legally adopted by him or her.
There are no exemptions from the process on the grounds of nationality, race or similar. All individuals who are keen to obtain PR status must go through the same process.
A work permit holder must earn at least a fixed monthly salary of S$6,000 to be eligible to apply for a Dependant Pass/ Long-Term Visit Pass for:
A work permit holder must earn at least a fixed monthly salary of S$12,000 to be eligible to apply for a Long-Term Visit Pass for his or her parents.
Dependants must obtain a work pass in their own right and subject to their own eligibility criteria. Any such application will be subject to the individual assessment by the Ministry of Manpower in the typical way in regard to whether it is approved.
The duration of the work pass obtained by a Dependant Pass holder is tied to the validity period of the work visa.
Children with a Dependant Pass have access to primary and secondary school education in Singapore and can apply to attend both private and public schools. However, admission to a Singapore public school is not guaranteed.
A Dependant Pass holder who wishes to attend one of Singapore's universities is typically required to obtain a Student Pass. However, for courses that are shorter than the duration of the Dependent Pass, the holder need only receive a letter of consent from the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority of Singapore.
A common law spouse is eligible to apply for a Long-Term Visit Pass provided that his or her partnership is recognised in either party's country of domicile. Singapore does not recognise same-sex partners.
Intra-company transfers fall within the Employment Pass (EP) category. An intra-corporate transferee (ICT) may be exempted from the mandatory requirement to advertise the job posting on MyCareersFurture.sg (formerly the Singapore Jobs Bank) prior to submission of an EP application, subject to compliance with the strict definition of ‘ICTs' under the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) or any applicable free trade agreements to which Singapore is a party.
ICTs are restricted to a three-year term; however, this may be extended for up to two additional years, for a total term not exceeding five years, unless otherwise determined by the free trade agreement (FTA) between Singapore and the country where the company's head office is located.
A candidate must the definition of an ‘overseas ICT' under the WTO GATS or any applicable FTA to which Singapore is a party. The definition may differ if the candidate is coming in under an applicable FTA, as each FTA contains its own definition of ‘overseas ICTs'.
Under the WTO GATS, the candidate being brought in as an overseas ICT must have worked for the company outside Singapore for at least one year before being posted to the branch, affiliate or subsidiary in Singapore, in one of the following roles:
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) may request documents that demonstrate the relationship between the group of companies at its discretion.
The government fees associated with an EP application are S$105 upon submission of the application, followed by S$225 per pass and S$30 for each multiple journey visa (if applicable) upon issuance of the approved pass.
The process of applying for an EP for an intra-company group employee is the same as that set out for a normal EP/S Pass application, with the exception that the requirement to advertise the position on MyCareersFuture.sg for 28 days in advance of submission of an application may not apply (subject to meeting the stringent definition of an ‘ICT' set out in question 6.3). MOM may also request supporting documents to ascertain the relationship between the group companies at its discretion during the application process.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) permits exemptions from the MyCareersFuture.sg advertising requirement where one of the following criteria is met:
Notwithstanding the above exemptions, MOM strongly encourages employers to advertise all positions on MyCareersFuture.sg in order to facilitate access to a larger pool of candidates. All companies are expected to have fair employment practices that are open, merit-based and non-discriminatory, even if the job vacancies are exempt from the advertising requirement.
The Fair Consideration Framework was introduced as part of the Singapore government's move to strengthen the Singaporean core in the workforce and the requirement to consider Singaporean candidates fairly for a job opportunity prior to the hiring of a foreigner to a position. Before an Employment Pass (EP)/S Pass application is submitted, the employer must advertise the job vacancy on the MyCareersFuture.sg website administered by Workforce Singapore, a statutory board under MOM. The ad must:
Following completion of the MyCareersFuture.sg advertising process, the employer must submit an EP application through the designated MOM online application system. Typically, the review process by MOM takes three weeks; however, this can be longer where requests for further information/documentation are made by MOM and subject to the individual's/company's profile.
Please see question 3.8 for details of the fees associated with this application.
No, the requirement to advertise on MyCareersFuture.sg does not apply when applying to renew an existing pass for a foreign employee. However, when an EP holder decides to change jobs and apply for a new position with a different employer in Singapore, this job will be subject to the MyCareersFuture.sg advertising requirements.
Once a foreign employee holds a valid EP or S Pass, he or she will fall within one of the eligible categories to apply for Singapore permanent residence. However, each individual application will be subject to strict assessment by the Immigration & Checkpoint Authority regarding the strength and profile of the application.
The sponsor must be a well-established Singapore registered company. New companies must show:
Being an employer comes with various administrative and housekeeping obligations. These include:
An employer's duties and obligations are defined by the Singapore Employment Act, which is Singapore's main labour law. It sets out the basic terms and working conditions for all types of employees, with some exceptions.
The Employment Act contains statutory requirements on:
More information on the Employment Act is available from the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) website.
There are no statutory requirements to provide training benefits to Singapore employees. In general, employers are encouraged by MOM to provide their employees with opportunities for training and development, to improve job competency and possible career advancement. The Singapore government also has various schemes to partially cover training and skills upgrading costs.
There is no standard practice for offering training and skills upgrade benefits to employees. This usually depends on:
Potential work permit infringements can be reported by calling the MOM's hotlines or submitting feedback online.
The penalties for common offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act are as follows:
Dependant Passes: From 1 May 2021, Dependant Pass (DP) holders who are currently working with a letter of consent in Singapore will be allowed to continue working for the duration of validity of their current approved letter of consent.
Subsequent to that, they will need to apply for a work pass in Singapore – either an S Pass or an Employment Pass (EP) – or a work permit. Previously, if DP holders wanted to work in Singapore, a letter of consent had to be obtained from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) by the employer before they could start their employment.
Practically, when applying for a work pass for a DP holder, an employer should consider:
A DP holder may continue to work under a letter of consent on the basis that the business creates local employment if:
If the DP holder's business does not meet the new criteria, he or she can continue working until the current letter of consent expires.
Ratio of foreign workers: Singapore is reducing the ratio of foreign workers in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors in a two-step process beginning in 2021, according to the new budget.
As from 1 January 2021, companies in the construction, marine shipyard and process industries will only be permitted to employ S Pass holders as 18% of their total workforce, and the cap will drop again to 15% on 1 January 2023. The current permissible percentage is 20% for these industries. For companies in the manufacturing industry, the ratio for S Passes will be reviewed at a later date because of economic uncertainty.
The allowable percentage of foreign workers to Singaporean workers is referred to as DRC, and S Passes are a sub-category of the overall DRC. The government has observed an increase in the number of S Pass holders in the construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard and process sectors, and these numbers are expected to increase further over the next several years. However, S Pass holder growth must be sustainable. The government is already working closely with enterprises to grow local manpower, including mid-career workers. The manufacturing industry will be reviewed in the future and may undergo similar sub-DRC reductions.
The following table shows the changes to the DRC and sub-DRC in all sectors in the coming years.
Following last year's announcement during the budget on reducing dependency on the DRC and S Pass sub-DRC thresholds in the services sector, this announcement on tightening the foreign workforce quota in three additional sectors has come as no surprise. The reduction in the sub-DRC is aimed at encouraging employers in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors to enhance their Singaporean workforce by hiring and training more Singaporean workers and transferring skills from their foreign employees to the local workforce.
From 1 November 2021, MOM, the Ministry of Education and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority have implemented vaccination as an entry requirement for long-term pass holders.
The vaccination requirement applies to those entering Singapore via the Work Pass Holder General Lane and the Student's Pass Holder Lane. For travellers applying for entry via the Familial Ties Lane, priority will be given to those who are fully vaccinated.
While it is not mandatory to advertise roles on the government job portal if the employer currently has fewer than 10 employees or the job pays more than S$20,000 per month, it is still necessary to fairly consider all applicants who apply through other recruitment channels, and the information relating to the recruitment efforts made for the role is still needed for the Employment Pass (EP) application. In very limited circumstances – for example, in the case of C-suite/senior positions or due to the restructuring or launch of a new unit staffed by employees with advanced expertise or proprietary knowledge of the organisation's operations – no recruitment process may be conducted. If the company does conduct a recruitment process in Singapore for the job vacancy, it is advisable to retain details of all recruitment channels that were used and the number of local candidates who applied for the role but were unsuccessful. This will minimise the risk of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) asking additional questions related to the hiring process.
Based on our observations, MOM may randomly request additional information/documents related to the hiring process for roles that are exempt from the job posting requirement. In such cases, it will expect the Singapore employer to be able to justify why it did not consider other (local) candidates for the role.
Given the impact of COVID-19 on the Singapore economy, MOM has become even stricter in its assessment of EP/S Pass applications. For all EP/S Pass applications, it is now mandatory for employers to declare that they have fairly considered local candidates and provide the reasons for not hiring them. Employers are expected to review local candidates fairly before the role is offered to foreign talent (regardless of whether the role is exempt from the job posting requirement).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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