Is a foreign worker policy review imminent in Singapore?

PM Lee promises to tighten criteria for EP and S passes

Is a foreign worker policy review imminent in Singapore?

To assuage “growing restlessness” over work pass holders and job insecurity, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed plans to continue to monitor and review the city-state’s foreign labour policy. The announcement was made during the state’s National Day Rally, in tandem with plans to make workplace discrimination illegal. PM Lee didn’t make any clear indications when the next review will take place but promised that it won’t be done “suddenly or sharply” to avoid hurting businesses.

Read more: Discriminatory firms will soon face legal action in Singapore

PM Lee reiterated the importance of work pass holders in complementing the skills of Singapore’s workforce and bolstering economic growth. Despite this, he acknowledged the “intensified” uncertainties of Singaporean professionals.

“We must assure Singaporeans that EP and S Pass holders are of the right standard,” Lee said. “A practical and reasonable indication of quality is how much the employer is prepared to pay for the work pass holder. This is why to qualify for an EP or S Pass, there are salary cut-offs. As Singaporean wages rise, we have raised these cut-offs in step. Last year, we raised the cut-offs twice. For the financial sector, where salaries are higher, we set a higher cut-off.

“We will continue to tighten the criteria for EP and S passes over time. Not suddenly or sharply, which would hurt businesses, but gradually and progressively. This will ensure that work pass holders come in where we most need them. And we won’t be flooded with more than we can absorb, doing jobs for which Singaporeans are qualified and available.”

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had adjusted the policy just last year following accusations of unfair hiring by employers. For instance, since September 1st, 2020, the salary requirement for employment pass (EP) holders is a minimum of $4,500 for all new applicants – up from $3,900 the year before. The new salary criteria came into effect from May 1st this year for renewal applicants. MOM also introduced a differentiated policy for employers in the finance sector, where the qualifying salary was raised to $5,000 for new applicants.

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