2015 has seen a number of key changes being made in relation to economic migrants and their family members in Singapore, particularly in relation to S Passes and Employment Passes (EPs). The underlying theme has been a general tightening of regulations and increased focus on fair recruitment practices from employers, to ensure the resident workforce is protected and considered fairly. This is a continuation of the trend seen in 2014 with the introduction of the Fair Consideration Framework. A summary of the key changes for 2015 is provided below.
Key Changes & Business Impact
- Announced in late 2014, the first key change of the year was the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM’s) decision to align Employment Pass issuance to S Pass issuance, meaning that from March 2015 it must be completed before the employee starts work.
The requirement to issue the Employment Pass before the employee commences work has meant businesses have had to review internal policies regarding arrival dates and benefits, considering that employees based overseas need to arrive more than 24 business hours in advance of employment to allow for the pass to be issued.
- The MOM announced in May that from June onwards, it would no longer accept manual applications for the vast majority of case types, favouring instead online submission to try and increase efficiency in the decision making process.
This change has seen some sponsors take a more active approach on EPOL, due to removing the option to file the application manually and allowing only those registered on the portal to draft and file applications online.
However, it has also lead to quicker turnaround times as manual applications tend to take five to six weeks to process whereas those submitted online usually only take one to two weeks.
- In July, several key changes to Employment Pass application process were announced by the MOM, to be implemented in October. These included the requirement to publish the salary range of the job vacancy when posted on Jobs Bank, closer scrutiny on certain employers who are suspected of having discriminatory nationality-based recruitment practices and closer scrutiny of qualifications submitted in support of S Pass and Employment Pass applications.
The most visible impact of this group of changes has been in relation to educational qualifications, with the MOM sometimes rejecting applications which it believes contain ‘doubtful’ qualifications, such as those obtained from institutions who may have allowed students to ‘study’ at a ‘degree mill’ for payment, in order to obtain the qualification without actually studying for the course in question. Firms are therefore encouraged to carry out qualification checks as part of the onboarding process to reduce the chances of EP application rejection for this reason.
- Another change announced by the MOM in July (effective from September) was the revision the qualifying salary criteria for EP and S Pass holders to sponsor passes for their dependents, raising to S$5,000 per month to sponsor the stay of their spouse or unmarried child and of S$10,000 to sponsor the stay of their parents.
The increased threshold could cause problems for Employment Pass and S Pass holders earning under $5,000 per month who have new born children in Singapore. Those children will not be granted a Dependant Pass and may have to leave Singapore. This, in turn, could impact Singapore-based businesses due to the break-up of the family unit and the main pass holder may therefore also decide to leave Singapore.
- Lastly in 2015, the MOM made an unpublished change in October regarding the amount of time that a foreigner is allowed to spend in Singapore per calendar year in the Work Pass Exempt category. The permitted total was announced to be 90 days.
Employers who rely on this category for short term activities (such as installing, dismantling, transfer, repair, or maintenance of any machine or equipment) are the most affected by the change and the business will need to apply for a work pass if the foreigner’s services are still required beyond 90 days in the same calendar year.
Looking Ahead to 2016
The build up to the 2015 General Election saw a Singapore government that was keen to portray an image of protecting the local workforce and taking a hard line approach on employers who didn’t consider local Singaporeans ahead of foreigners. Despite no election taking place in 2016, it is still likely that a similar trend will continue, as the government tries to carry the momentum over from the 2015 election. Businesses can therefore expect the MOM to adopt a similarly tough approach towards sponsors that it deems to have unfair recruitment practices which discriminate against Singaporeans.
Whilst no proposed changes have been outlined at the time of writing, Emigra Worldwide will continue to send eAlerts on all legislative changes as and when they occur.
The information above was provided by Emigra Worldwide, our global network partners, and relevant government authorities. The information herein is for general purposes only and not intended as advice for a particular matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the global immigration professional with whom you work.