Thursday 14 November 2013

Parliament Highlights - 12 Nov 2013

450,000 workers to get better protection
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

SOME 450,000 workers are set to enjoy greater protection under a labour law that spells out minimum employment standards that firms must follow.

The changes to the Employment Act passed by Parliament yesterday extend its coverage to 150,000 more rank-and-file workers by raising the income cap from $2,000 to $2,500 a month.

Another 300,000 professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) earning up to $4,500 a month will be protected against unfair dismissal and for sick leave benefits, which they were not before.

The latest changes will "ensure reasonable labour standards for workers while balancing employers' need to stay competitive", said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament yesterday. They were triggered by the growing ranks of PMEs and changes in employment practices, he added.

Employers have secured some concessions, including one on overtime pay. Although workers earning up to $2,500 are now covered by the Act, the salary used to calculate their overtime pay is capped at $2,250, to help keep down labour costs.

And PMEs can get help for unfair dismissal only if they have worked for a company for at least 12 months. Firms also do not have to grant sick leave to workers who go for cosmetic surgery.

Several of the 11 MPs who spoke during the debate yesterday said the changes did not go far enough. They threw up a barrage of suggestions on how to further enhance the law.

Nominated MP Mary Liew called for restrictive clauses in employment contracts, such as those that bar employees from working for rival firms, to be outlawed.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) suggested legislating an employee's right to ask for flexible work arrangements, and Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said that PMEs earning above $4,500 per month should also get help from the labour court in salary disputes.

Nominated MP R. Dhinakaran even called for more protection for employers, such as allowing them to recover over-payment made to their staff.

"Employers too can be exploited, not just employees," he said.

Mr Tan promised to look at giving more protection to contract workers and beefing up the channels to resolve labour disputes. "All these will be addressed in the next phase of the Employment Act review next year," he said.

Tougher penalties for firms that don't pay CPF
Minimum fines and jail terms introduced for errant employers
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

ERRANT bosses who delay or default on making contributions to their workers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts will now face stiffer fines and jail time.

Parliament yesterday passed the CPF (Amendment) Bill which introduced for the first time minimum fines and jail terms for these offences.

While MPs supported the tougher penalties, some worried about the impact on firms that make genuine mistakes and whether CPF officers might abuse the new, wider powers.

The stiffer punishments "will ensure that the penalties have a stronger deterrent effect on recalcitrant employers", said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

With the changes, first-time offenders can be jailed up to six months or fined up to $5,000, or both. The minimum fine will be $1,000.

Repeat offenders may be jailed up to 12 months or fined, or both. A minimum fine of $2,000 will be imposed and the maximum fine stays at $10,000.

Besides tougher punishment handed out by the courts, the composition fines, which are imposed by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) for firms not hauled to court, will also double from $500 to $1,000 for each offence.

The tougher penalties come after the CPF Board recovered a staggering $293 million in arrears owed to more than 200,000 workers last year.

Besides penalties, CPF enforcement officers will also get wider powers to investigate complaints, including ordering firms that are not the workers' employers to turn over documents.

Several of the seven MPs who spoke on the changes to the law welcomed the heftier punishment. Mr Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said that the CPF has been "around for years" and firms cannot plead ignorance.

"I would further request the CPF Board to name and shame the recalcitrant employers and even blacklist them from becoming future employers," said the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.

But nominated MP Laurence Lien was worried about firms that made genuine mistakes. The CPF Act should "differentiate between the act of wilful withholding and the act of negligence or honest mistakes on the part of employers", he said.

Responding, Mr Tan assured Mr Lien that not all firms will be charged in court. The MOM takes a "calibrated approach" and firms are allowed to correct their mistakes. "Prosecution is not meant to be the first resort in recovering CPF," he said.

He also assured the House that the inspectors will not abuse their wider power. They will only request documents related to investigations and are bound by law and "a strict internal code of conduct" on how they handle the information.

The authorities will also step up outreach to both workers and firms. "We're open to ideas on how best to do it, to inform employees about their basic rights and educate employers about their legal obligations," Mr Tan said.

- Employers that delay or default on making contributions to their workers' CPF can be jailed up to six months or fined up to $5,000, or both. The minimum fine will be $1,000.
- Repeat offenders may be jailed up to 12 months or fined, or both. A minimum fine of $2,000 will be imposed and the maximum fine stays at $10,000.
- The composition fines, imposed by the Manpower Ministry for firms not hauled to court, will double from $500 to $1,000 for each offence.

2,600 work passes not renewed in first half
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

SOME 2,600 Employment Passes (EPs) were not renewed in the first half of this year, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Slightly more than half of these EP holders were from the lowest tier, or Q1 pass holders, he said in response to a question by Nominated MP R. Dhinakaran.

The top industries that the EP holders belonged to were wholesale and retail trade, professional services as well as information and communications.

There were 172,100 EP holders in June, down from 173,800 in December last year.

Mr Tan said the passes were likely not renewed due to the tightening of the EP qualifying criteria, as part of the Government's move to raise the quality of foreign professionals working here.

In January last year, the qualifying salary for EP holders was raised from $2,800 to $3,000.

Under the new Fair Consideration Framework, this will go up to $3,300 from the start of next year for young graduates from good educational institutions.

Firms must also advertise on a government jobs bank for 14 days before applying for an EP.

Asked by Mr Dhinakaran whether the Manpower Ministry has received complaints from multinational companies about the tight labour market, Mr Tan said both foreign and local companies have expressed concern.

His ministry is "very mindful" of companies' concerns and is proceeding "quite carefully" on this front, said Mr Tan.

"But the overall message is consistent...We do need to tighten and we do need to move on to a much more productivity-led growth as well as a more manpower-lean approach," he added.

Finding right balance to protect workers
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

IT WAS a day for workers in the House as two Bills were passed to better safeguard their interests.

Employers will face tougher penalties if they delay or default on contributions to workers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts under the amended CPF Bill.

And professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) earning up to $4,500 a month will be protected in areas such as unfair dismissal and sick leave after an expansion of the Employment Act.

The moves should be welcomed because, as Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) pointed out, for too long now, many employees did not even know their rights.

But even as the armour to protect workers against employers' bad behaviour is being strengthened, care must be taken that it does not become so heavy that it weighs everyone down.

The aim, after all, is to strike a good balance between promoting economic dynamism and keeping pace with the evolving needs of the workforce.

But this balance is not so easy to achieve.

Indeed, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin warned: "Drastic rules that hinder business operations could actually inadvertently affect the employability of the very workers that we are looking to help."

This point was not lost on MPs, with the word "balance" coming up several times.

The question, of course, is what is an optimal balance?

While 11 MPs rose to support the amendment Bill, they also sought greater protection for workers.

Mr Nair, for instance, believes the income ceiling of $4,500 under which PMEs are protected should be raised and that these PMEs should be given access to the labour court as a way to settle their employment disputes.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Nominated MP Mary Liew want eldercare leave legislated so that employees can take time off to care for their parents.

And Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) said more needs to be done about the long working hours and lack of flexible work arrangements.

But even with those concerns being raised, Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) reminded the House that it is the low-income workers who still need much more help.

And Mr Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asked: "Where does MOM (Manpower Ministry) draw the line on which workers to protect and which to be left to fend for themselves out there in the real 'harsh' world?"

The debate shows that finding that balance in protection is particularly challenging when it pits employers against employees.

If there has been an imbalance between the rights and protections that employers here enjoy relative to workers, recent changes have sought to rectify that.

These include measures to tighten foreign worker inflows, the implementation of the Fair Consideration Framework to protect local workers against companies who favour hiring foreigners, and now, the extension of the Employment Act.

It can be said that the laws and policies are now being brought up to speed but enhancements and refinements have to continue as the profile of the workforce and the economy evolves.

The number of PMEs in our workforce is expected to rise from about a third now to 40 per cent by 2030. That shift will present new challenges, as PMEs become the equivalent of today's rank-and-file workers, said Ms Liew.

How people work and who should be considered a worker will also change with technological advancements and changing work habits, and preferences.

As these changes occur, both employers and employees should not lose focus of this guiding philosophy - to provide better protection for workers while giving employers the room and flexibility they need to remain competitive, so that they can provide good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans.

Move for compulsory payslips deferred
Govt decision prompted by strong objections from small businesses
By Rachel Chang And Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

EMPLOYERS will not be required to issue payslips to their workers - for now.

The decision to hold off on making it compulsory is prompted by strong objections from small and medium-sized enterprises, especially smaller businesses like retail shops in HDB estates, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

But it "is the direction we want to go" and steps towards it will be taken in phases, he added, without specifying any timeframe for its eventual implementation.

For a start, tripartite guidelines to prod employers down that road will be issued in the first half of next year, he told the House.

Mandatory payslips were to have been part of the slew of changes to the Employment Act that was passed by Parliament yesterday.

They help workers keep track of what they are paid and deter irresponsible employment practices, such as underpaying workers or making unreasonable pay deductions.

There was widespread support for it during the ministry's public consultations between last November and January this year.

But when it asked employers, SMEs said it would add to their administrative costs - concerns which the ministry understands, said Mr Tan.

"Not everything ought to be legislated at once as ultimately, we aim to change behaviour in a sustainable way."

Hence, a "pragmatic and phased" approach will be adopted to give businesses time to adjust, he said.

Earlier, during the debate on the changes, labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called for a timeframe to make it compulsory to issue payslips.

Refusing to do it is how irresponsible employers "cover their tracks" when they underpay or flout the law, he said.

Low-wage workers are especially vulnerable as many do not get payslips. As a result, unions find it an uphill task to get official redress for those who are ill-treated, he said.

Mr Sapari also asked that double pay be given to workers when they work on a rest day, regardless of whether it was asked for by the employee or employer.

Now, employers give double pay only if they call the employee back to work.

He also wants employers to pay for the cost of medicine at outpatient clinics.

Now, bosses pay only the consultation bill.

Replying, Mr Tan said that while vulnerable workers deserve special attention, imposing too many conditions may affect their employability.

"Then we end up hurting the very people that we are trying to protect," he said.

The Employment Act is just one dimension in a "multi-dimensional issue in terms of addressing the concerns and needs of these Singaporeans", he added.

Listing the many aid programmes, he said efforts to help them will centre on creating good jobs and raising employment standards as "work is really the best form of welfare".

Eldercare leave: No plans to legislate
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

THE Government has no plans to make eldercare leave mandatory, because employers are still adjusting to recent moves to extend other family-related leave schemes, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

The clear stance came in his reply to two MPs urging for such a move during the debate on amendments to the Employment Act.

They were Nominated MP Mary Liew and Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

Public calls for eldercare leave have also grown in the past few months.

Last month, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said that enshrining this right into law would send a strong signal to employers to support workers with ageing parents.

Mr Tan said yesterday that he "agrees in principle that it is important to encourage support for elderly parents".

But the Government's January Marriage and Parenthood package made one week of paternity leave mandatory, and extended childcare leave.

"So we are mindful that we should allow businesses to adjust and we do not have plans to legislate any (other) family leave schemes at this present stage," he said.

He added that there are tripartite guidelines encouraging companies to grant non-statutory leave to employees for family-related issues.

In late 2011, the Civil Service introduced two-day parent care leave and civil servants are not required to produce a medical certificate when applying for it.

Fewer foreign buyers of local property
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

THE number of foreign buyers of local property fell to 330 in the third quarter of this year and comprised 7 per cent of transactions, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

This is a sharp drop from the 1,400 per quarter - 17 per cent of transactions - that foreign buyers accounted for in 2011, he told Parliament.

In December of that year, the Government levied a 10 per cent additional buyer's stamp duty on foreign buyers of property.

Replying to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Mr Khaw also revealed that sub-sales transactions - a measure of the amount of property speculation in the market - have dropped from comprising 7.6 per cent of all private housing transactions in 2011 to 4.6 per cent in the third quarter of this year.

In absolute numbers, the number of sub-sales transactions has fallen from 670 per quarter in 2011, to 181 in the third quarter of this year.

Several rounds of cooling measures since 2010, such as increased stamp duties and borrowing limits, have also aggressively targeted speculation.

Calling the trends "encouraging", Mr Khaw said that the Government will not hesitate to act further when necessary.

Responding to Mr de Souza's supplementary question on whether further ownership restrictions on foreigners here could be preferable to the "ad hoc" bag of cooling measures thus far, Mr Khaw said that Singapore's property market is subject to many external factors beyond the Government's control.

Regulatory policies must, hence, stay nimble, he added.

He pointed out that the Australian system, which Mr de Souza used as an example of a property market with restrictions on foreign ownership of property, is also struggling with a property bubble.

"Managing the property market is both an art and a science and also requires a heavy dose of good luck," the minister said, adding that he is seeing more light at the end of the tunnel.

"As you can see, I'm now more relaxed, my hair has even turned black," he quipped to the House.


Number of foreign buyers of local property in the third quarter, accounting for 7 per cent of transactions.


Percentage of all private housing transactions in the third quarter that were sub-sales transactions, a measure of property speculation in the market.

Govt may boost funds for legal aid
But it needs to ensure help goes only to deserving cases, says Indranee
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

MORE needy people could benefit from free legal assistance as the Government considers increasing funds for pro bono criminal work.

But care will be taken to ensure that help continues to go only to the deserving, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah told Parliament yesterday.

She was responding to Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who had asked if more money could be provided for criminal legal aid to encourage lawyers to take up work in this area.

Increased funding will allow the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office to take on more deserving non-capital cases.

Under its Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, lawyers are assigned to those who have been charged with offences that do not attract the death penalty.

Applicants for legal aid are assessed based on various criteria, including income. To qualify, single applicants must earn less than $1,300 a month, and married applicants must have a household income of less than $1,700 a month.

The office, which received $1.4 million in grants from 2007 to 2011, gets about 1,000 applications a year but can only take on some 300 cases.

Despite the possible increase in grants, Ms Indranee stressed that the Government wants to ensure funding remains sustainable as "monies come from a finite pool of taxpayer money".

"There cannot be an approach of unlimited funding nor funding for unmeritorious cases," said Ms Indranee, who was a top lawyer in Drew and Napier before she joined the frontbench last year.

" We have to structure some acceptable way of identifying cases where assistance needs to be given."

An independent committee will be set up to oversee the disbursement and allocation of the money.

She added that the experiences of other countries, some of which have found "costs prohibitive and (the) outcome not entirely satisfactory", are instructive.

Britain, for instance, spent £2 billion (S$4 billion) on legal aid annually - half of which went towards criminal defence - only to find out that some of the money went towards helping wealthy criminals whose assets were frozen.

The British government was eventually forced to cut back on funding.

Yesterday's announcement came amid efforts by the legal fraternity to encourage pro bono work as a way of widening public access to justice.

Law Society president Lok Vi Ming told The Straits Times that more funding will allow them to increase the scope of pro bono criminal work.

Currently, only offences that fall under 15 statutes, such as the Penal Code and Misuse of Drugs Act, are covered. With increased funding, this list could be expanded.

Details of the enhanced funding are being worked out with groups like the Law Society and the Singapore Academy of Law.

Representation by merit, not gender quota
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

THE Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Ms Low Yen Ling, yesterday defended Singapore's record of women in politics.

Compared with a decade ago, there are more women in Parliament now and Ms Low argued that it is more important to anchor political representation on meritocracy rather than impose gender quotas.

She was responding to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who had cited a recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report which shows Singapore's relatively low ranking in terms of political empowerment.

Ms Low pointed out that of the 99 seats in the House, 25 are occupied by women. "So in terms of percentage, we are doing better compared with a decade ago. Percentage-wise, 25.4, and this compares very favourably with the Inter-Parliamentary Union of 21.4 per cent," she said. The union is the international organisation of Parliaments.

Singapore's ranking was 58th out of 136 countries this year, compared with 84th out of 130 in 2009, said Ms Low.

Ms Lim, who is chairman of the opposition Workers' Party, had asked if the Government was satisfied with the scores. She said: "While we scored fairly well, 47 out of 136 for MPs, in terms of Cabinet, we are really far down."

Singapore is ranked 125th out of 136 countries - in terms of women in ministerial positions - she noted. "Instead of having just one lady minister out of 18 currently in the last few decades, do we expect any improvement in this area?" she asked.

Currently, Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, is the only woman Cabinet politician. But the first woman Cabinet minister is Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, who was promoted in 2009. She was defeated in the 2011 General Election.

Govt to explore simpler cab fare structure
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

THE Government will look into simplifying the current taxi fare structure to make it less confusing for commuters, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo.

Among the issues under review are the extra surcharges levied on commuters who ride in premium taxi models like Mercedes-Benz, or hail a taxi in the city area.

Acknowledging that the current taxi fare structure is "complex and confusing", Mrs Teo told Parliament yesterday that the Land Transport Authority will work with the Public Transport Council and cab operators to study "if and how" to simplify the fare structure.

The aim is to allow for easy fare comparison across the six cab companies, she said.

Currently, there are close to 10 different flagdown fares, three different metered fare structures, and more than 10 different types of surcharges.

On ensuring enough taxis ply the roads during peak hours, Mrs Teo said different surcharges have been imposed to better match taxi supply with demand by giving incentives to cabbies to serve locations where demand is high.

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who is also an adviser to the National Taxi Association (NTA), asked Mrs Teo if the Government can look into simplifying the rental fees paid by cabbies.

Mrs Teo said the Government wants to be careful about getting involved in discussions between cab operators and cabbies about the fees.

She explained that it is for the taxi drivers to compare which rental scheme best meets their requirements. Mrs Teo added that the NTA could take up the issue.

Call for lower MediShield co-payments
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

NON-CONSTITUENCY MP Gerald Giam yesterday made a push for lower co-payments under the national health insurance scheme MediShield, so that patients will not shy away from necessary medical care or cut back on medication.

He proposed an annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses that go towards co-payments, which "can be financially crippling". Any medical bills above this cap would be paid for by the Government, suggested the Workers' Party MP.

His call prompted Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to stress that co-payment remains important in preventing over-consumption of health-care services.

Currently, patients in Class-C wards have to pay the first $1,500 of the bill before they can tap MediShield. The amount, called the deductible, is set at $2,000 for patients in higher-class wards. On top of this, they also pay co-insurance which is about 10 to 20 per cent of the amount claimed.

Mr Giam, who had filed an adjournment motion in Parliament to speak more about health-care financing, noted that developed countries such as Japan and New Zealand limit the amount of co-payments their citizens pay.

In a 15-minute speech, he also pointed to a US study which showed that higher co-payments prompted poorer patients to avoid treatment. In a separate study by Harvard Medical School, he said, more heart attack patients whose co-payments were waived took their medication regularly.

Said Mr Giam: "An annual cap on out-of-pocket payments will limit the financial risk that individual patients are exposed to, and help allay the anxiety of many Singaporeans about uncertain medical expenses."

Last year, more than 2,400 MediShield policyholders made hefty co-payments of more than $10,000 each.

Mr Gan said the current review of health-care financing - which includes revamping MediShield to MediShield Life - aims to reduce co-payments for patients.

MediShield Life, announced in August, will cover all residents for life, including those with pre-existing conditions.

Overall, the Government will do more to enlarge its share of health-care costs from less than one-third to more than 40 per cent, added the Health Minister.

Another idea offered by Mr Giam is a "premium subsidy programme" for vulnerable groups like low-income families to offset higher premiums that would come under the new MediShield Life.

Means testing should also be made simpler, added Mr Giam. For instance, patients could simply give consent for health-care providers to access their income records with the relevant agencies, rather than having to physically submit income documents.

He cited a resident in Bedok with chronic lung disease who gave up applying for financial aid due to the onerous administrative process. Instead, he skipped medical appointments and cut back on medication to save money.

On the larger issue of healthcare costs, Mr Gan said these must be "carefully managed" to avoid higher taxes in the future.

"The health-care financing system in Singapore is fundamentally sound," he said. "But we need to 'future-proof' it so that it remains effective and relevant for many more years to come."

'Flexibility' in granting artists work passes
Manpower Ministry says applications may be reviewed if there is support from arts council
By Clarissa Oon, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2013

While some home-grown arts groups are affected by the tightening of foreign employment, the Manpower Ministry said the rules have to be "applied consistently across the board".

However, it gives "some flexibility" in handling the work pass applications from certain foreign artists "on a case-by-case basis, when there is support given by the National Arts Council".

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin made these comments in a written reply released on Tuesday night, in response to a parliamentary question on the subject raised by Nominated MP for the arts Janice Koh.

Several non-profit arts companies are feeling the heat of the recent hike in the qualifying salary for the Employment Pass (EP), which is for foreign professionals.

They say there is not enough local talent in areas such as dance, music and musical theatre, and that the new rules mean either raising salaries or paying more in levies for the lower-tier S Pass for mid-level skilled foreigners.

Those affected by the new rules, as reported by Life! yesterday, include full-time contemporary dance group Arts Fission Company and professional orchestras such as the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

Ms Koh had asked whether policies on foreign manpower "can be refined to take into account the modest pay scales of skilled arts professionals and the freelance nature of work in these sectors".

In his reply, the minister explained the need for a fixed monthly salary to be a key criterion in determining a foreigner's eligibility for a work pass.

He said this fixed monthly salary is "taken as a proxy of a foreigner's quality and economic contribution to Singapore. This is a basic requirement for EP or S Pass applications and is applied consistently across the board".

He added: "To allow variable payments to be counted in the monthly salary for work pass eligibility would undermine this intent, as some foreign employees may end up not earning that monthly salary, for example, due to poor sales in the case of commissions."

However, his ministry recognised that the "arts scene is still relatively young" and that its "pay scales may not be comparable to those in other industries".

Hence, on a case-by-case basis, the ministry was prepared to be flexible about the rules when advised by the arts council.

Two flagship arts companies employing large numbers of foreign artists - the Singapore Dance Theatre and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra - indicated they have not faced problems getting their artists' work passes approved.

The dance theatre employs 36 dancers, about 75 per cent of whom are foreigners on work passes.

As for the symphony orchestra, about 20 per cent of its 96 musicians are Employment Pass holders.

In September, the Manpower Ministry announced a hike in the Employment Pass qualifying salary for young graduates from good educational institutions, from $3,000 to at least $3,300. Older applicants have to command higher salaries to qualify.

In a statement, National Arts Council CEO Kathy Lai said that in advising the Manpower Ministry, it considers "whether the foreign applicant helps plug our current industry or skills gaps" and "the quality and relevance of their qualifications and experience".

It also consults arts groups to assess the applicant's "potential contributions or impact on the development of the local arts organisation and the wider arts scene".

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