Saturday 28 April 2012

The uneasy expats

EPs: High degree of predictability
Letter from Farah Abdul Rahim,
Director, Corporate Communications, Ministry of Manpower
TODAY, 28 Apr 2012

THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) wishes to clarify some generalisations in the commentary "The uneasy expats" (April 23).

Having an open, diversified workforce remains an important factor in keeping Singapore's economy strong.

It allows Singapore to remain competitive, and it helps contribute to economic growth, which generates jobs for Singaporeans.

The enhanced Employment Pass (EP) framework announced last year ensures that EP holders are of the right calibre, adding needed expertise and complementing an increasingly qualified local workforce.

The changes to the EP framework include tightened eligibility requirements, such as higher salary requirements and better educational qualifications for foreign talent entering lower- and mid-level professional, managerial and executive jobs.

We had previously communicated that current EP holders will not automatically get their EPs renewed.

Under the enhanced criteria, there will be some who will find themselves no longer eligible for renewal of their EP.

Contrary to anecdotal observations in the commentary, MOM provides a high degree of predictability through the online Self-Assessment Tool (, for employers to assess if potential employees and current EP holders will meet the prevailing eligibility criteria.

This helps to give businesses greater certainty when planning their manpower needs.

We encourage employers to use the tool well ahead of their EP renewals to gauge if their EP holders will be renewed.

There will, of course, be other factors that cannot be adequately built into the automated tool, such as an applicant's past record or antecedents and companies' past employment records.

These can only be determined upon actual application or renewal.

MOM will continue to review and improve our communications to employers and employees, to strike the right balance between giving employers enough information to help with their business decisions about their workers while preserving the integrity of the EP framework to prevent abuse and circumvention.

Who is the next generation?
Letter from Eric Thompson
TODAY, 28 Apr 2012

IN HER response to "The uneasy expats" (April 23), Ms Foo Li Ming suggests that we in Singapore must nurture the next generation, "Nurture the fish of tomorrow" (April 26), and not rely on foreign talent.

I could not agree more. The question is, who is the next generation and how are they being nurtured?

It is clear that current Singapore citizens are having diminishing numbers of babies. 

This is unlikely to reverse any time soon, unless draconian, coercive measures are put in place, which none of us should hope for.

In this vibrant global city, the next generation will be more diverse, multiracial and multinational. It will include many new and older immigrants.

The worrying trend now is the increasingly emotional and tense divide between citizens and non-citizens and even between new citizens and old citizens.

Do Singaporeans remember their history? Do they remember that the reason for the creation of Singapore was the refusal to accept "bumiputera" policies that gave extensive privileges to Malay citizens at the expense of Chinese and Indian immigrant populations?

Singapore has been successful in overcoming the racial divides that threatened the country at independence.

Today, we face new challenges. Neither older citizens nor new immigrants must be made to feel disadvantaged and second-class. We and our children are all the next generation.

Nurture the fish of tomorrow
Letter from Foo Li Ming
TODAY, 26 Apr 2012

MR RICHARD Hartung, in his commentary "The uneasy expats" (April 23), writes about the departure of employment pass (EP) holders and the non-renewal of re-entry permits for permanent residents (PRs).

While it is an advantage to attract or retain "talents", I disagree that it should be a long-term cure for brain drain. These talents, while they are here, should not limit their contribution to the company, economy and their wallets.

It would be good for companies to get them to help nurture the next generation. The saying "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime", about how to teach one to survive, could apply in this regard.

Singapore and companies here should not rely on these talents for an unlimited period. It would tax the company's finances and deprive citizens of the chance to gain exposure to jobs being done by permanent residents and EP holders.

In the case of EP holders whose passes were not renewed, if they really have valuable skill sets, I do not think it would be a big problem for them to find another employer here. After all, it is now an ever-changing world, and locals have also been plagued by income loss and job uncertainty. As for PRs, the Government has made it clear that it would not close the door on those who really want to contribute to the nation.

Talent loss is indeed a painful experience, but in future, instead of lamenting their losses, companies should make necessary arrangements for the work to continue smoothly, as no one is indispensable.

Mr Hartung stresses on how the talent outflow and lack of clarity over employment passes and PR permits could affect economic certainty. I would stress, though, that before any outflow happens, talent could be nurtured such that the next generation would be capable of filling the void.

The uneasy expats
Lack of clarity over whether employment passes, PR permits will be renewed aggravating uncertainty
by Richard Hartung, TODAY, 23 Apr 2012

A contact for a story said: "We need to talk this week." The reason, as it turned out, was that he had to leave town because his employment pass had not been renewed. And he is not the only one. Other employment pass holders have also been forced to leave and even some permanent residents' (PR) re-entry permits have not been renewed.

While there is plenty of discussion in Singapore about having too many foreigners here, the buzz in the expat community is about how uncertain it is whether they can continue to live here.

Whether the number of rejected applications is actually large or small isn't clear. Regardless of reality, word has gotten around about passes not being renewed and rumours about the reasons are flowing fast. As one blogger wrote: "It's pot luck … Doesn't seem to be any rhyme nor reason."

The issue affects talented people who are considering whether to move to Singapore too. While people who want to come here for more mundane jobs may have few options, talented individuals have a multitude of choices.

When they hear about employment pass renewal rejections and when they can have greater certainty about a long-term job if they move somewhere else, they may well decide to bypass the island and take their skills elsewhere.

Employers, too, are facing difficulties.

One well-placed industry observer told me that many major companies are concerned about their ability to maintain their skilled expat staff - especially when they have not been able to hire and retain local staff with similar skills. Companies in industries like hospitality, for example, have found that staff who have been here for many years are suddenly not being allowed to stay.

The buzz about rejections is compounded by a lack of clarity about which employment passes or PR permits will be renewed.

While salary requirements are online and the Ministry of Manpower even has an online Self-Assessment Tool, some people who seem to meet the criteria have still been turned down. Some people have successfully appealed against rejections, though many of them are not sure why their appeal succeeded.

Lacking clear information, the rumour mill has gone into higher gear.

For expats living here, a rejected application can mean uprooting the family and a loss of income. For companies, it may mean missed business opportunities or putting expansion plans on hold if they aren't sure whether key employees will be allowed to stay.


Along with the impact on expats' lives and on companies, the loss of talent creates a broader risk for Singapore.

A talent drain if people already here leave and a talent shortage if fewer people move here because of the uncertainty, could well have a negative impact on economic growth. Gaps caused by having fewer skilled staff could mean companies can't or won't undertake initiatives they need to grow faster.

The issue arises at a time when talented staff are most needed to combat a potential economic downturn. People who head elsewhere could help other countries compete against Singapore, instead of helping Singapore compete better in the world economy.

There are undoubtedly a multitude of factors that go into renewing or rejecting an application for a new employment pass or a renewal. Some people may no longer meet the criteria and others may not meet new requirements.

While it's preferable to leave the merits of individual cases, and even the question of whether there are too many foreigners here, to politicians and ministries, a key issue is how to resolve the negative economic impact that uncertainty about renewals may have.

One part of the solution could well be greater transparency about the criteria for passes and permits. Providing details about requirements as well as information about whether goalposts have changed, as other countries have done, could enable expats to assess their eligibility better.

Explanations of the reasons for rejections and information about how or whether to appeal could help reduce the uncertainty and rumours. Ministries could also hold information and feedback sessions, as they have done in the past, to explain the system and gather feedback.

While the solution isn't simple, changes could enable talented people to gain certainty in their lives and give Singapore a boost in the battle for talent, in a period of significant economic uncertainty.

Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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