Does Ceca give Indian nationals a free pass into Singapore?

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Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng debunked misconceptions about the Ceca free trade pact in Parliament on July 6, 2021.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng debunked misconceptions about the Ceca free trade pact in Parliament on July 6, 2021.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Senior Political Correspondent

5 myths and facts about the trade pact

SINGAPORE – In a ministerial statement on Tuesday (July 6), Health Minister Ong Ye Kung – formerly the deputy chief negotiator for the US-Singapore FTA – and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng debunked misconceptions about the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca).

The free trade pact, which was inked in 2005, has come under attack from some quarters on social media, as well as during last year’s general election.

Here are five myths and facts about Ceca, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Myth 1: Ceca obliges Singapore to give Indian workers free entry into Singapore

Fact: Ceca does not give Indian nationals unfettered access to Singapore’s labour market.

All foreign nationals, including Indian professionals and intra-corporate transferees (ICTs), have to meet prevailing work pass criteria before they are allowed to work in Singapore.

ICTs refer to transfers of a company’s employees from one country to another. They have consistently constituted a very small number – about 4,200 in 2020, of which 500 were from India.

Some have noted that companies that bring in ICTs do not have to advertise the position to locals as part of the Fair Consideration Framework, which requires employers to advertise jobs on the MyCareersFuture.sg portal before submitting Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass applications.

But overseas ICTs must fulfil additional criteria in order to meet the definition of ICTs in Singapore’s free trade agreements (FTAs), including a minimum duration of working for the employer outside of Singapore.

They are also subject to conditions on their eligibility to bring in dependants, apply for permanent residency or future employment in Singapore.

For example, under Ceca, such transferees must have worked at least six months in the parent company, among other requirements. They can stay in Singapore for a total term of eight years, at most.

Myth 2: Ceca gives Indian nationals privileges for citizenship or permanent residency

Fact: Nothing in Ceca affects Singapore’s right to regulate immigration, citizenship or permanent residency.

Chapter 9 of the agreement on movement of natural persons makes it clear that the Government’s ability to regulate immigration and foreign manpower is not affected by the agreement.

Article 9.1.2 explicitly states that Ceca “shall not apply to measures pertaining to citizenship, permanent residence, or employment on a permanent basis”.

Myth 3: Ceca obliges Singapore to allow the entry of Indian dependants and for them to work in Singapore

Fact: All work pass holders need to meet the Manpower Ministry’s prevailing criteria to bring in dependants.

The vast majority of dependants are in Singapore to accompany the work pass holder and do not work during their stay in Singapore. Those who wish to work have to apply for a relevant work pass.

Since May 1 this year, foreigners staying in Singapore on dependant’s passes have needed a work pass to work here, instead of a letter of consent.

This means their employers need to apply for an Employment Pass, S Pass or work permit for them, and the relevant qualifying salary, dependency ratio ceiling and levy apply.

Myth 4: There is a separate category of ‘professional visas’ for the 127 professions listed in Annex 9A of Ceca

Fact: There is no such separate category. They are subject to the same prevailing work pass criteria that the Manpower Ministry applies to all other foreigners.

A similar listing of professions is contained in India’s FTAs with a few other countries.

India’s Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with South Korea has 163 professions in its annex to the chapter on movement of natural persons.

Its agreement with Japan also contains an appendix with professions in areas ranging from computer services to management consulting.

There is even a separate provision for the temporary stay of Indians in Japan who teach Indian yoga, cuisine, classical music and dance.

Myth 5 : The nationality profile of Singapore’s foreign workforce has been influenced by Ceca

Fact: The nationality composition of Singapore’s workforce is an outcome of the sectors it has chosen to focus on, as well as the global demand and supply of workers with the relevant skill sets.

These workers are competitive in certain sectors, and from certain countries of origin.

As Singapore does not have enough locals to fill these jobs, Indian tech professionals have come to Singapore through the work pass framework to complement local tech talent.

The growth of the digital economy, in turn, creates good jobs for Singaporeans.

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