Employment of Foreign Manpower – What Employers Need to Know


Employment of Foreign Manpower – What Employers Need to Know

by Hana
April 14, 2021



Singapore is a highly desirable place to live. Thus employers often receive applications from foreigners wishing to make Singapore their home, either permanently or temporarily. 

There are many advantages to building a diverse workforce. And sometimes the skills being sought are not available locally. However, employers must familiarise themselves with the Singapore employment law pertaining to foreign manpower. 

Employers failing to comply with the law could find themselves subject to fines and imprisonment. These penalties can be significant, even if they surface after the event. This was demonstrated recently in the case of Twelve Cupcakes. The present owners of the chain were fined S$119,500 for underpaying seven foreign employees. The start of the non-compliance was traced back to the founders, former Miss Universe Singapore, Jaime Teo and her ex-husband, Daniel Ong. They were both subsequently fined.

Work Pass Requirements

In the majority of cases, non-residents working in Singapore are required to hold a valid work pass. (Certain activities can be performed for short durations without a work pass where an e-notification to inform MOM is completed.) There are several different classes of work passes that have different requirements. Which work pass a foreign employee requires depends on the nature of their work. The following are the passes that employers most commonly are required to deal with.

  1. Professionals, that is, foreigners working in managerial, executive or specialised jobs, have two options;
  • a. An Employment Pass (EP) is linked to a named employer and must be cancelled when employment terminates. Applicants must have a fixed monthly salary of at least S$4,500 and acceptable qualifications. The salary must be commensurate with experience, so more experienced candidates (over 40 years of age) will need higher salaries. And for the first time, MOM has set a sector-specific qualifying salary. It applies to foreign workers in the financial sector, who must now receive a qualifying salary of S$5,000 or more a month. Find out everything you need to know about applying for EPs on the MOM website.
  • b. A Personalised Employment Pass (PEP) is not linked to an employer. It is granted on the applicant’s merit. To qualify, applicants must have drawn a minimum overseas salary of S$18,000 a month within six months of applying. Alternatively, they can be an employment pass holder earning a fixed S$12,000 or more a month. Applicants can find out everything they need to know about applying for PEPs on the MOM website.

2. Mid-level skilled foreign workers, like technicians, analysts, accountants, journalists, etc., must qualify for an S Pass. They need to earn a minimum fixed monthly salary of at least S$2,500. Applications will take into consideration their salary, education, skills, job type and work experience. Employers are subject to a quota and levy for S Pass employees. Find out everything you need to know about applying for S Passes on the MOM website.

3. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers from approved source countries and territories are eligible for work permits. Employers are limited by a quota for their industry and have to pay a monthly levy for each worker. Work permits are valid for up to 2 years, depending on the validity of the worker’s passport, security bond and employment period. There is no minimum salary requirement for work permits, and they can potentially be renewed. Find out everything you need to know about applying for work permits on the MOM website.

Training Passes

Foreigner workers may also enter Singapore for training purposes, in which case they will require training passes. 

  1. Training Employment Passes are valid for three months and cannot be renewed. Applicants must be studying at an acceptable institution or earn a fixed monthly salary of at least $3,000. Sponsorship by a well-established Singaporean employer is required. Find out everything you need to know about applying for training EPs on the MOM website.
  2. Training Work Permits are valid for up to six months. They are intended for semi-skilled foreign trainees or students undergoing practical training in Singapore. Quotas and levies apply to employers applying for training work permits. Find out everything you need to know about applying for training work permits on the MOM website.

Other Passes

MOM offers several other work passes. They include passes for entrepreneurs wishing to start businesses in Singapore, domestic workers, holiday workers and students, and relatives of foreigners with work passes. Details of eligibility and the application processes can be found on the MOM website.

Fair Consideration of Candidates

Under the ‘Fair Consideration Framework’ (the “FCF”) implemented by MOM, employers must consider all candidates fairly. They cannot dismiss candidates on non-job related characteristics such as age, gender, nationality or race. And they should at all times endeavour to abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

To facilitate fair consideration, MOM requires employers to advertise positions for 28 days on MyCareersFuture.sg to encourage local applicants before applying for EPs and S Passes. There are specific requirements for, and some exemptions from, the advertising. You can find the details on the MOM website.

Employers are advised to keep detailed records of the reasons why they gave foreigners preference over Singaporeans. In February 2020, MOM toughened the penalties for non-compliance with the FCF, including bans of 12 to 24 months. Bans will cover the issuing of new work passes and the renewal of existing work passes. MOM is also committed to prosecuting employers (including key personnel) who lie about assessing candidates fairly.

Cancellation of Work Passes

A work pass must be cancelled within seven days of the date of termination of employment. Employers can complete EP, Training EP and S Pass cancellations online through the MOM Portal. Pass holders can be given a 30-day short term visit pass upon cancellation to prepare for departure. Instructions for cancelling work permits can be found on the MOM website.

Administering Passes

The administration of foreign worker passes must be faultless to avoid losing track of pass conditions and expiry dates. JustLogin’s HR software allows employers to track employees with work passes and easily set reminders for pass renewals/expiry with its People feature. Keep all your employee data together digitally and securely on the cloud – to access anytime, anywhere. Sign up for a 14-day free trial and see the difference.

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