Singapore city skyline
Singapore city skyline. Image Credit: Pixabay

Singapore: Singapore is seeking to attract higher-caliber foreign workers under a new points-based visa system, as part of the government's broader push to boost local employment while positioning itself as a global city, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said.

"What we are trying to do is to be able to differentiate the high talent, the really super skill sets talent that can come to our country to work to complement our existing workforce," Tan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television's Haslinda Amin on Thursday. The nation last week announced one of the biggest overhauls ever to visa rules that allow entry of typically highly-paid workers, who will be scored on factors such as education, skills and how their nationality contributes to the diversity of their firm.

The revised scoring system is set to kick in from September next year for new applicants of an Employment Pass, holders of which currently make up about 14% of the financial and business hub's foreign workforce. The changes seek to address concerns among residents about a perceived bias toward hiring foreigners, and comes two years after the ruling People's Action Party lost the most number of parliamentary seats since independence.

Tan said that resentment against foreigners is not a widespread sentiment in the country. The new system, which has been worked on for a long time, has been welcomed by business chambers and companies as it gives more transparency to the hiring process, according to Tan.

"Rather than open the door and let every single one in, what we are trying to say is that let's have a little bit more differentiation," said Tan. The endgame is one where "the ones that leave get replaced by higher-caliber EPs" over the next few years, Tan said.

Worker Crunch

The Southeast Asian nation is currently facing a shortage of workers across sectors ranging from the labor-intensive construction and services industries to the high-skilled tech and finance sectors, as foreigners left amid tight border controls during the pandemic.

Tan said that Singapore is hoping to address the crunch by wooing highly educated women and older employees back into the jobs market, by calling on firms to introduce more flexible work arrangements. He estimates that a previously announced increase in the retirement age could "potentially" bring back more than 100,000 workers into the workforce.

The labor shortage is still expected to be resolved in the coming months as Singapore eases border curbs "quite quickly," he said, echoing earlier remarks by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong that the government is aiming to clear the foreign worker crunch in a few months.