Firms working to advance Singapore’s key economic priorities will temporarily be allowed to hire a few more foreign workers than permitted by the prevailing quotas for their industry.
These firms, recognised for their role in keeping Singapore competitive, can apply to take on more S Pass and work permit holders than they are currently allowed, under a new scheme that kicked in on Tuesday.
If approved, these firms’ quotas for foreign workers on either pass will be expanded by up to 5 per cent of their existing base workforce, capped at 50 additional workers, for two years at a time – renewable – under the Manpower for Strategic Economic Priorities (M-SEP) scheme.
Eligible firms can apply for M-SEP via the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website from 4pm on Tuesday.
“With the reduction in the quotas… that would come in next year, we wanted to provide enterprises that are very innovative, have made significant investments, and very firm and very aggressive internationalisation plans to ensure that they also have the complementary foreign manpower to help them,” said Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng at an industry visit on Tuesday.
To meet the first of two M-SEP qualifying conditions, a firm must either be already part of at least one economic scheme, or has been deemed to meet certain economic criteria, by any of five agencies.
The five agencies are: Economic Development Board; Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Infocomm Media Development Authority, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), and Singapore Tourism Board.
A joint effort between the five, MTI, and MOM, M-SEP behoves firms that benefit from the additional flexibility it grants with hiring foreign manpower to also nurture Singaporean talent.
Having satisfied the first condition, a firm that wishes to tap M-SEP can commit to hiring or sending for training within two years the same number of locals as the additional quota it seeks, to meet the second condition.
Local workers sent for training must be enrolled in one of 10 recognised training programmes from MTI, SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore or MPA.
Moreover, firms must demonstrate the training will result in job enhancements, like a promotion with wage increment, an expanded job scope or higher-level responsibilities.
Alternatively, an industry leader that significantly benefits their sector, such as by filling critical skill gaps or manpower shortages, also meets the second condition.
These firms must already be recognised for having excellent workplace learning practices in place, with either gold or platinum certification from the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning, or SkillsFuture Queen Bee status.
There are currently 16 SkillsFuture Queen Bees and seven platinum- or gold-certified firms.
Firms seeking renewal of their M-SEP quota will have to show they met their commitments at the end of their two-year support period, as well as maintaining their local workforce share.
Those that fail to do so will be ineligible to apply for renewal for two years.
Firms will also need to commit to a fresh round of hiring or training of locals for each renewal, rather than clinching a renewal just merely from meeting their previous commitments.
“For egregious firms that are insincere in fulfilling their commitments to hire or train locals, (the) agencies will additionally take into account this poor track record when assessing these firms’ future participation in Government-led programmes,” said MOM and MTI.
Prevailing restrictions on source countries will still apply for those hired under the M-SEP quota.
The number of firms and additional workers who can be on the scheme is not capped as yet, but only about 1,000 firms in Singapore meet the first condition, amounting to under 1 per cent of all registered business entities in Singapore, the ministries said.
Not all eligible firms require additional S Pass and work permit quotas, and even those in need might not be able to access the maximum additional quota M-SEP avails, the ministries added.
The ministries added that M-SEP complements the changes that MOM is making to Singapore’s work pass framework, by supporting the growth of businesses that contribute to Singapore’s strategic economic priorities.
Among the slew of upcoming changes that the ministries were referring to are the introduction of the Complementarity Assessment Framework, a points-based system of evaluating whether to issue an Employment Pass to an applicant, as well as the launch of a new Overseas Networks and Expertise Pass for top foreign talent come 2023.