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From Work Permit to S Pass to E Pass: Here's What You Need To Know

Illustration of many people working like EP and SP Holders in Singapore

As the COVID19 lockdowns affect more and more economies around the world, businesses close and as a result, citizens and residents become unemployed. Governments are forced to look after their own citizens and residents first. Singapore is a very small and affluent country but the principles of economics apply to us all the same.

Following COVID19 and the elections of 2020, the government has become even more vocal about their Local-first policy. Here are the policy changes and our suggestions on how to react.

All Work Visas Still Require Singapore Government Approval

ministry of manpower logo
The ministry of manpower is required to approve almost all visas.

Unlike other countries that require just an employer to support your visa application, all visa applications in Singapore must be approved by the government. This means that in the eyes of the government the new foreign-hire must justify the role. How is a role justified? By creating and bringing value to Singapore.

Just because you are willing to do work for a lower rate than other people are does not mean you bring value to Singapore. This might form part of a larger justification but cannot be the only basis for your visa application!

Value is created through unique knowledge or skills that you possess and are hard to find (or cannot be found) locally. Alternatively your employment in Singapore for that company is likely to bring about unique and lasting value in Singapore like tremendous intellectual property value or economic value (like say, convincing a major tech company to host all their servers in a Singapore datacentre).

This value creation must be undeniably evident in your visa application

Visas Have Quotas and Salary Requirements

MOM Quota checking page
MOM's tool to quota the foreign worker quota.

If you’re an S-Pass holder you will need to justify salaries of at least SGD 2600 per month and supporting a 1:10 foreigner-to-local-ratio. Also during PM Lee’s speech here, it was very clear that S-Pass holders compete with local polytechnic diploma holders.

That means that companies you work for will need to be:

  1. Large enough to hire 11 staff; and

  2. Willing to pay 2600 for an entry level role; and

  3. Can find you, interview you, and hire you

If you’re an E-Pass holder, you will need to justify a monthly salary now of $4500 (Previously $3600 then $3900). While there are no quotas, expect that these roles are going to be scrutinized much more heavily for that “value creation” element. Also there are qualification expectations for this role such as having a recognized degree and reasonable experience to justify the employment. Applicants for these roles are competing with our local degree graduates.

This means that if you’re hoping for an E-Pass visa you will need to:

  1. Earn a recognized qualification (not all university degrees are recognized); and

  2. Find a company that is willing to employ you for an above-median salary of $4500 and justify this internally; and

  3. Beat the hordes of people applying for these amazingly lucrative roles from all over the world as well as locally.

You're Competing on an Imbalanced Playing Field

Remember that local governments are desperately trying to encourage businesses to hire locals first. Initiatives in the incredibly pro-active government of Singapore include:
  1. Jobs Support Scheme where the government reimburses companies between 25% and 75% of local salaries till March 2021. If you are a foreigner, your employer will receive no subsidies and must pay your salary in full despite the current economic situation.
  2. Jobs Growth Initiative where the government subsidizes new hires by a further 25% – 50% for up to 12 months. This encourages companies to dish out huge salaries to local employees. Again, if you are a foreigner your company will not receive this subsidy.
  3. SkillsFuture Training Grants and Absentee Payroll where local businesses that send Singapore citizens and PRs for training receive up to 95% subsidies on course fees and a further $10/hour reimbursement for each hour that the staff is on course. That means that it only costs the company 5% of the course fees to receive training on some of the latest technology, skills and abilities.
To sum up the comparison here, we’ve done a table:
Scenario A: New hire is a 35 year old, earning $2600 salary, sent for $2500 worth of training over 5 days a year Scenario B: New hire is a 45 year old, earning $4500 salary, sent for $2500 worth of training over 5 days a year
Cost if worker is a Local Salary Cost for 1 year including CPF: $36,504 Training Cost for 1 year: $2500 JGI (25%) – (9126) Training Grant – (2250) Absentee Payroll – (425) Total cost – $27,203 Salary Cost for 1 year including CPF: $63,180 Training Cost for 1 year: $2500 JGI (50%) – (31,590) Training Grant – (2250) Absentee Payroll – (425) Total cost – $31,415
Cost if worker is a Foreigner Salary Cost for 1 year including levy: $35,160 Total Cost – $35,160 Salary Cost for 1 year (no levy): $54,000 Total Cost – $54,000
Nett additional cost of hiring a foreigner… $7957 (3 months salary) $22,585 (5 months salary)

All Is Not Lost!

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. If you’re already in Singapore and your pass needs to be renewed in the next 12 months make sure you can justify your value to your company and also make it very clear that your work will more than exceed the $7500 or $22500.
  2. Assume that there are many (many many) people coming for your job. If you’re holding an s-pass then you must make it abundantly clear that you are more experienced than a fresh diploma holder. If you’re on an e-pass then you must make sure that you’re creating extensive value for the company and for Singapore. A good way to do this is to upgrade qualifications through a quick degree or professional course. We recommend deep technical fields because there is no denying the value that those create (as oppose to generic business management degrees). Examples of those that are available to completed part-time and in 16 months or less include:

If you’re looking for a course that is less academic and more vocationally inclined you may want to consider our Specialist Diplomas that complete in just 9 months part-time and are highly focused on roles that are tough to fill in the engineering world:

  1. Be ready to work – if there’s one thing that’s for sure, Singapore citizens will have their pick of jobs and boy are we picky. Use this opportunity to engage your employers in a dialogue to ensure you are fully aligned with their strategy and understand how you can create unique value and culture where others may not be able to.

We’re living in “strange and unusual” times (or is the phase now… ‘difficult and unusual’… I forget), remember that he who fails to plan, plans to fail.

So What Should I Do Now?

We recommend that you start looking for degree programmes and hopefully, you choose us.

Many people ask where do I start.  

Everyone starts in different place. Your past qualifications and work experience is critical in determining where you go and start. If you’d like to speak to a consultant about joining, please complete the form below and we can get back to you about fees, duration and more.

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