CNA: New work pass for high earners, achievers can draw top talent in their fields to Singapore: HR experts

The new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass, which was announced by the Manpower Ministry on Aug 29, aims to strengthen Singapore’s position as a global hub for talent.


This comes after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Monday (Aug 29) announced the new work pass, which will also allow high-earners and high-achievers to live in Singapore without having to secure a job here first.


Mr Nilay Khandelwal, managing director of recruitment agency Michael Page Singapore, said that the talent crunch here is especially tight at senior levels, and the new employment pass is likely targeted at attracting specific talent in niche areas.


“If you’re investing into Singapore as a market, if you’re a start-up or one of the top organisations, it’s quite a straightforward mechanism for you to get one of the people in your headquarters to be based here or one of the co-founders or founders from one of the markets to move into this market,” he said.


He said that this will greatly improve the ease of doing business here, adding: “It’s basically trying to attract individuals from various walks of life who are at the top of their game, and truly making sure that Singapore becomes a global hub for talent.”


The bar is high for the Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass. Applicants need to meet a salary threshold of S$30,000 a month or have “outstanding achievements” in their field, which can be in arts and culture, sciences, academia or sports.


Overseas candidates need to demonstrate that they are playing a leading role in an established company, with market capitalisation of at least US$500 million or annual revenue of USS$200 million.


But the pass offers much greater flexibility than existing work passes. As it’s not tied to a job here, the individual can concurrently start, operate and work for multiple companies in Singapore.


It also has a longer duration of five years and the person can sponsor his or her dependents to live here. Their spouses can work on a letter of consent.


Announcing the new pass and changes to the employment pass framework on Monday, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said: “We are now in an era where businesses follow talent, as much as talent follows business. Both businesses and talent are searching for safe and stable environments to invest, live and work in. Singapore is such a place.”


Besides the new work pass, MOM will extend to five years the duration of work passes for experienced tech professionals with skills in shortage, from Sep 1, 2023.


At the same time, MOM said it will enable companies to be more responsive to business needs by shortening the processing time for EPs, and halving the Fair Consideration Framework job advertising duration from 28 days to 14 days.



Both Dr Tan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that other countries are also trying to attract their share of global talent, and Singapore cannot afford to fall behind. 



Other countries have offered similar or better terms to talent looking to relocate. For example, the United Arab Emirates has a Golden Visa scheme for talent in medicine, science & technology, and culture and art that lasts for five to 10 years. The United Kingdom has a Global Talent Visa with a five-year duration. 



Ms Jaya Dass, managing director of Permanent Recruitment in Asia Pacific at Randstad, said that every country in the world is trying to attract the same pool of talent, especially those who have the experience to “lead and drive change in a highly competitive and volatile market”.


“The Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass definitely comes across as a differentiated work pass that offers more flexibility and options to expatriates who are looking for an opportunity to work and live in Singapore long-term,” she said.


“The announcement sends a message that Singapore is deeply committed to retaining its place as the global talent hub in ASEAN as well as now, on a global level.”


In a statement on Monday, the British Chamber of Commerce affirmed this, saying that the focus on removing barriers for the highest levels of talent, combined with the longer-term approach to top-tier work passes, is a “clear signal to the industry of Singapore’s confidence as a contender for global and regional talent hubs”.



Ms Dass thinks that any sector that is undergoing significant change management, or is driving digital and green transformation would require “experienced interim leaders”.


“These roles tend to be transient in nature as their skills and experiences are often most useful at different phases of change,” said Ms Dass.


“The industries that will get the opportunity to tap into this talent pool would include banking and financial services, fintech, technology, manufacturing, life sciences, just to name a few.”


The move is forward-looking in that it “paves the way for future workforce planning”.


She added that there are some parts of the business environment like green transformation and sustainability that will continue to need foreign talent to close the knowledge gap.


However, it may not necessarily alleviate Singapore’s current middle-level workforce crunch.


The changes to the work pass framework will give startups and tech firms a leg up, said Ms Florence Neo, CEO of Action Community for Entrepreneurship, the national trade association for start-ups.


Talent acquisition and retention has been a key issue and growing concern in the startup ecosystem as start-ups are usually unable to compete with the bigger players and MNCs for talent.


“We are pleased to hear that there is now an improved processing time for all EP applications, as well as a longer EP duration of five years for experienced tech professionals,” she said.


“Talent is key to our startups’ growth. For each start-up to be able to attract and retain the talent it requires could well be a game changer to boost and future-proof our startup ecosystem.”


She added that foreign talent coming here also have to integrate with the existing talent pool of Singaporeans.


“It is not a binary choice. Both sides can learn and benefit from the other,” she said.


“In the long run, more quality jobs and opportunities will be created in the market for locals.”



But some warned that there should be ways to measure the returns of attracting top talent to Singapore.


“Will they eventually root themselves and families here, create jobs, impart skills? Or just spend some years here and eventually pack up and move home?” said Ms Angela Kuek, director at Meyer Consulting.


“I’ve questions about that but only time will tell.”


National Trades Union Congress Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay said that there should be safeguards to let Singaporeans have fair opportunities to jobs; level the playing field for local professionals, managers and executives, and keep the “Singaporean Core intact and strong”.


He acknowledged that top talent in deep tech and specialised science/research roles can help groom and nurture local talent in these fields.


But he also asked for better clarity on the definition of top talent and for measures to ensure that there is knowledge sharing from foreign professionals to Singaporeans.


“I trust the Government will provide clear guidance on the definition of top talents, perhaps disclosing a list of reputable companies that employs top talents and roles can be shared externally for added accountability,” he said.


“Careful consideration must be given to ensure that foreign top talents complement and plug the skills gaps for Singaporeans,” he added.


But the reality is that Singapore is facing a shortage of local talents in certain sectors, and it needs to explore ways to grow the local talent pool to compete on an international stage, he said.