Singapore – Employers, assemble your dream team: A major overhaul to Singapore’s work pass framework

With a raft of new changes to Singapore’s work pass framework, the “Little Red Dot” sends a strong message that it is open for business and cementing its position as a global hub for talent as part of its post-COVID recovery strategy.

With the introduction of a points-based assessment framework for employment pass applications, a new work pass for top foreign talent, greater transparency over the status of applications and reduced processing times, the changes are designed to improve Singapore’s ability to attract the best talent and to streamline the hiring processes for employers.

The MDR ONE Team has created this guide to help you navigate some of the key changes.

Changes to Employment Pass (“EP”) eligibility

At a glance: Under the new framework, candidates must pass a two-stage eligibility test to qualify for an EP. They must: (1) Earn at least the qualifying salary; and (2) Pass a Complementarity Assessment Framework (“COMPASS“). The changes to the EP framework will apply progressively, to give employers time to adjust – so take careful note of the timings set out below.

  1. Qualifying salary and timing:
  • New applications from 1 September 2022: SGD$5,000 per month (or SGD$5,500 per month for financial services) (increases progressively with age); and
  • Renewal applications before 1 September 2023: SGD$4,500 per month (or SGD$5,000 per month for financial services) (increases progressively with age). Existing EP holders whose passes are expiring from 1 September 2023 will be subject to the new qualifying salary (see first bullet point).

2. COMPASS

In addition to meeting the qualifying salary, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM“) will use a new set of points-based criteria called COMPASS to assess EP applications. COMPASS evaluates EP applications based on a holistic set of individual and firm-related attributes.

Timing: COMPASS will apply to:

  • New applications from 1 September 2023; and
  • Renewal applications from 1 September 2024.

COMPASS criteria:

To pass COMPASS, the EP application must be awarded at least 40 points – please visit the MOM website for further information on COMPASS scoring. The following criteria will be considered for scoring purposes:

(a) Individual attributes:

  • Salary – points will be awarded relative to local professionals, managers, executives and technicians’ (“PMET“) fixed monthly salaries in the relevant sector (e.g. if the applicant’s salary falls within the 90th percentile compared to local PMET’s salaries in that sector, they will be awarded more points).
  • Qualifications – points will be awarded for the applicant’s qualifications, depending on which category the qualifications fall under (i.e. top-tier, degree-equivalent qualification or no degree-equivalent qualification).

(b) Firm-related attributes:

  • Diversity – points will be awarded to the applications where the applicant’s nationality forms the minority of the firm’s PMET employees.
  • Support for local employment – applications will earn more points if the firm has a relatively higher share of locals among PMET employees, compared to other firms in the same subsector.

(c) Bonus criteria:

  • Skills bonus (Shortage Occupation List) – more points will be awarded if the applicant is in an occupation requiring highly specialised skills that are currently in shortage in the local workforce.
  • Strategic economic priorities – additional points will be awarded if firms participate in selected programmes run by various economic agencies or meet specific assessment criteria and show commitment to developing the local workforce or ecosystem.

New 5-year Employment Pass for experienced tech professionals

At a glance: the option of a 5-year EP (versus the usual duration of 2 to 3 years) will be extended to experienced professionals in tech-related roles.

Timing: From 1 September 2023

Qualifying criteria:

  • Fill specific tech occupations which are listed on the COMPASS Shortage Occupation List (see above);
  • Earn a fixed monthly salary of at least SGD$10,500 (increases progressively with age); and
  • Pass COMPASS and score at least 10 points on the Diversity criterion (see above).

Faster processing times

Reduced processing times and greater transparency: The MOM has committed to reducing processing times for all EP applications from approximately 3 weeks to 10 days. The MOM will now also provide employers with reasons in the event of a failed or delayed EP application.

Reduced job advertisement requirement

Fair Consideration Framework (FCF): Companies are required to advertise a job opening for a specified time period before hiring a non-local (subject to some exceptions).

From 1 September 2022, the duration of that FCF job advertising requirement was restored to 14 days. (The duration had previously been increased to 28 days in October 2020 due to a push to get more locals back into work following the economic effects of COVID-19.)

New benchmark for exemption from FCF advertising requirement and COMPASS for top 10% of EP holders and eligibility for Personalised Employment Pass (PEP)

At a glance: the top 10% of EP holders (in terms of salary) will continue to be exempt from the FCF requirement and COMPASS. They will also continue to be eligible to apply for a Personalised Employment Pass (“PEP“) (i.e. for high-earning Employment Pass holders and overseas foreign professionals).

Timing: From 1 September 2023.

Qualifying criteria: The MOM will align the salary benchmark for the top 10% of EP holders and PEP holders:

  • Raise the exemption bar for the FCF job advertising requirement and COMPASS from SGD$20,000 to SGD$22,500 per month; and
  • Raise the qualifying salary for the PEP from SGD$12,000 per month (for existing EP holders) and SGD$18,000 (for overseas foreign professionals) to SGD$22,500 per month.

New Work Pass: Overseas Networks and Expertise (“ONE”) Pass

At a glance: in an effort to ensure that Singapore can compete effectively in the global fight for top talent, the ONE Pass has been introduced to allow high-earners and high-achievers to live in Singapore without necessarily needing to secure a job first. ONE Pass holders will also be able to concurrently start, operate and work for multiple companies at any one time (rather than being tied to a single company).

Details on the application process will be released closer to 1 January 2023, but here’s what we know so far:

Timing: ONE Pass will be open for applications from 1 January 2023.

Qualifying criteria: Applicants will need to:

  • Earn a fixed monthly salary of at least SGD$30,000 in the last year; or
  • Show that they will earn a fixed monthly salary of at least SGD$30,000 from their future employer in Singapore; or
  • Demonstrate “outstanding achievements” in the arts and culture, sports, science and technology, or research and academia – even if they do not meet the salary threshold.

Overseas candidates (i.e. those who are not existing work pass holders in Singapore) will also need to show that they have worked or will be working for an established company (with market capitalisation of at least USD$500 million or an annual revenue of at least USD$200 million) – either in their overseas role at the point of application, or future role based in Singapore.

ONE Pass holders will not be subject to the upcoming COMPASS framework (see above) and employers who wish to hire them are not subject to the FCF job advertising requirement.

Duration: passes are valid for 5 years for first-time candidates, renewable for 5 years at a time, subject to meeting renewal criteria.

Dependants: ONE Pass holders can sponsor dependants. Spouses will also be able to work in Singapore on a letter of consent which is currently not available to spouses of regular EP holders who must apply for their own EP.

Please get in touch with the MDR ONE Team if you need further details on the changes to Singapore’s work pass framework or we can support you with applications.

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