Singapore to Toughen Pass Requirement for Foreign Dependants

Foreigners living as dependants in Singapore who decide to seek employment will soon have to obtain their own work passes, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said Wednesday.

The vast majority of Dependant’s Pass holders -- generally the spouses or children of someone on an Employment Pass -- don’t work, while those who do currently need just a letter of consent, or LOC, from the ministry. Starting May 1, the government will “regularize” their work arrangements in line with other foreign-worker requirements, Teo said in a speech to parliament.

“We will provide sufficient time for existing DP holders working on an LOC, as well as their employers, to transit to this new arrangement,” Teo said in comments provided by the ministry. “Most of them meet prevailing work-pass criteria. Those that do not will have to cease working in Singapore.”

The move comes as the city-state has imposed more constraints on foreign employment, a key issue in last year’s general elections. In January the government tightened restrictions on intra-corporate transferees, one category of workers brought from overseas offices of multinational corporations, the Straits Times reported.

The move sparked vigorous discussion on social media forums, with one post drawing more than 100 responses. Some posters said they understood the need to close a loophole, with others expressing shock and dismay.

A few pointed out that the change would disproportionately hit women, who often use LOCs to take on part-time positions, as well as international schools that draw from the pool of trailing spouses to fill substitute positions.

Local Tilt

Dependant’s Pass holders who have sought employment via a letter of consent make up only about 1% of all work pass holders, Teo told parliament. There were nearly 190,000 Employment Pass holders as of last June, according to ministry data, and 33,100 people with “other work passes,” a category that includes LOCs and other types of permissions.

The tilt toward local workers has been a defining element of the government’s plan to heal the labor market. While last year’s total contraction in employment was the sharpest in more than two decades, the loss came almost entirely on the side of non residents, while net employment of locals actually rose, according to Ministry of Manpower data.

“The foreign workforce accounted for all of our employment contraction in 2020,” Teo said Wednesday. “I won’t say foreign-workforce policies alone made this happen, but they certainly played a part.”

Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore, said the gradual raising of employment requirements reflects the needs of the economy as it moves away from cheap labor.

“The immediate impact is also likely to be muted, as it only affects a relatively small segment,” she said. “Longer term, the foreign-manpower policy is likely to remain tight and is unlikely to change.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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