Cause For Concern? Singapore Expat Jobs Threatened By Tightening Employment Regulations

The Finder has consulted employers, expats and immigration experts. Find out what the changes may mean for you!
08 October 2020


In recent months, Singapore has tightened regulations around employment visas for foreign workers, responding to the economic challenges of 2020.

From 1 September, the Minimum Qualifying Salary for new applicants of Employment Passes (EP) and S Passes will be progressively raised. For the first time, salary requirements have also been set higher for a particular industry, with EPs in the financial services sector pegged at a minimum $5,000. 

Facing its worst recession on record, the government is trying to strike a balance between protecting local jobs and hiring foreign talent. Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo shared that these updates incentivize employers to build and retain a strong Singaporean core. The Ministry also stressed that Singapore will remain open, acknowledging the contributions of a foreign workforce that has been central in keeping Singapore attractive to international investors. 

Mapping Singapore’s Foreign Work Pass Policies changes

Minimum Qualifying Salary

*Qualifying salaries for older and more experienced candidates will increase correspondingly

Effective from
New Previous New Applicants Renewals
EP – General $4,500 $,900 1 Sep 2020 1 May 2021
EP – Financial Services $4,500 $3,900 1 Sep 2020
$5,000 $3,900 1 Dec 2020
S Pass $2,400 $2,500 1 Oct 2020


What People are Saying

The Finder spoke to employers, expats and immigration experts about the move, with most sharing an understanding for the reasons for the adjustments.

“This news does not come as a surprise – studying the economic landscape since the Circuit Breaker, we have been advising our clients that tightened measures were on the horizon,” says The Immigration People’s Director of Immigration Consultancy Elena Kwa. “This measure is taken to further support local employment opportunities as well as to maintain the quality of foreign talent that Singapore is bringing in.” (Read about The Immigration People’s good news about people applying for Permanent Resident status during this difficult period.)

Consultant Veronika, an EP holder from Europe, notes, “I count myself lucky that my EP is not due for renewal in the near future. While I understand the frustrations of many Singaporeans, particularly over the issue of PMET competition, I hope that the pace of immigration will continue to be kept measured. After all, this very openness has allowed Singapore to succeed – the Singaporean dream is mutually beneficial for both expats and locals.”

But others believe that the changes do not get at the root of the problem. An EP holder from India, Amit, shares, “The changes are admittedly necessary and fair. However, there are certain skill sets in the engineering sector that are highly specific and not easily found in Singapore right now. People with specialised capabilities are already well compensated beyond the minimum qualifying salary. As a result, I see these adjustments having little to no impact in my field, at least in the short term with local talent still being developed.”

David Ng, HR director of a local design label, thinks that the raised criteria would not affect his company, as they already prioritise local hiring. “I’m really proud that the bulk of our organisation is Singaporean, including the majority of our management team. I see this more as an incentive to prioritise the employment of locals in their early careers. Businesses that are disrupted by the rather abrupt changes may need more time to realign their hiring strategies, but I trust that the move will be beneficial to all in the long run.”

What Happens Next? 

Quizzed on her concern over the adjustment impacting the inflow of expats, Elena Kwa of The Immigration People expressed her confidence in Singapore’s attractiveness. 

“With the ongoing issues in Hong Kong, Singapore’s vibrant ecosystem, tax-friendly policies and supporting infrastructure makes it the next best destination in Asia. Based on the 2020 Population in Brief prepared by the Government, it is clear that there is no intention to drastically reduce the number of foreign talents,” she explains. “The Prime Minister has emphasized that Singapore cannot signal its unwillingness to welcome outsiders. What is happening here is simply a more measured and stable approach to immigration, to ensure the cohesiveness of the society at large.”

By Jashleen Kaur, October 2020

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More on The Finder:

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The New Repatriation Trend – Why Covid-19 And World Politics Are Making More Expats Go “Home”

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