AI scientists, nurses among 27 occupations that will get bonus points for employment pass approvals • With Commentary from Acre's Paddy Balfour

05 April 2023 by Paddy Balfour
blog author

​​Commentary from Paddy Balfour for The Straights Times, published on 31.03.23, original source: AI scientists, nurses among 27 occupations that will get bonus points for employment pass approvals, Author: Krist Boo

​SINGAPORE – Artificial intelligence scientists, nurses, carbon traders and top-tier financial advisers are on a list of 27 occupations that will get bonus points to help them qualify for passes to work in Singapore.

Two new bonus criteria were announced on Friday for fresh employment pass (EP) applicants who will be assessed under a new, points-based framework from Sept 1, 2023.

The two criteria allow applicants who possess skills that are in shortage here, and firms that contribute to Singapore’s strategic economic priorities, to earn bonus points to help secure an EP. This will enable companies to hire the foreign manpower they may need to seize economic opportunities.

To this end, details of the bonus points on offer were fleshed out and a Shortage Occupation List (SOL) published on Friday, to pin down occupations with a shortage of talent in Singapore.

A Strategic Economic Priorities (SEP) bonus will also be offered to firms seen as key contributors to Singapore’s economic ambitions, so that they are not hamstrung by a shortage of talent.

The SOL identified 27 occupations with a dearth of talent. Applicants under this criterion will get bonus points towards their total Complementarity Assessment Framework (Compass) score for EP applications from Sept 1.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), together with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said the shortlist, which was put together with government agencies, the unions and employers, was based on three considerations.

The jobs picked are of strategic importance to Singapore’s economic priorities, there is a significant shortage of skilled workers in those roles, and sector agencies – such as the Economic Development Board (EDB) – will work with the industry to transfer those skills through schools and programmes to build up a pipeline of local talent eventually. The list will be reviewed every three years, but can be reviewed annually if needed, in a bid to balance flexibility with certainty for businesses.

The shortlist of jobs covers six industries – agritech, financial services, green economy, healthcare, infocomm technology (IT) and maritime.

Applicants require a minimum of 40 points under six criteria to qualify for an EP under Compass, which will apply from Sept 1, 2024, for renewals. These include applicants’ salary and qualifications, their hiring company’s diversity and local staff ratios, as well as broader national economic objectives met by having the worker here.

Applicants under the SOL will be eligible for 20 bonus points. To retain diversity, this will be halved to 10 if one-third or more of the staff at their hiring firms are of the same nationality as them.

Those who will need to depend on the SOL bonus points to reach the pass mark of 40 will face verification checks on their experience and qualifications.

These candidates will also not be allowed to be redeployed to a different job role without a reassessment of their work passes.

MOM also touched on the SEP criterion, which grants up to 10 points for applicants applying to work in firms earmarked as important economic contributors. To qualify for these bonus points for their EP hires, these firms must show that they are developing the local workforce, and be supported by a sector agency or the National Trades Union Congress.

Such firms must also be in a programme run by EDB, Enterprise Singapore, the Maritime and Port Authority, the Singapore Tourism Board or the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

These firms will be notified by MOM from late July.

Firms are required to score at least 10 points each on two other criteria – diversity and support for local employment – after three years to keep the bonus.

MOM is encouraging firms to use the Workforce Insights tool on the MyMOM Portal to self-assess and benchmark their performance against industry peers.

Ms Amarjit Kaur, partner at law firm Withers KhattarWong, said the availability and accuracy of data relating to specific industry sectors and the employment landscape will determine the success of the new evaluation framework.

She also pointed to Singapore’s quest for technology talent despite recent layoffs in the sector.

“It is interesting to note that beyond niche IT jobs, more generic occupations such as software, web and app developers form part of the 27 occupations in the SOL.

“This indicates that tech demand is expected to remain high in furtherance of Singapore’s digitalisation drive.”

The shortage of talent is acute in some areas. Mr Paddy Balfour, executive director for Asia at sustainability talent recruiter Acre, said it would take at least five years for Singapore to develop meaningful levels of domestic talent in the carbon trading and programme areas.

“These roles point specifically to Singapore’s development as a carbon trading hub,” he added.

The overall number of EP holders as at 2022 – 187,300 – has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. It stood at 193,700 in 2019.

EP holders, who must make a minimum of $5,000 in monthly salary, are generally higher-qualified foreign talent than S-Pass and work-permit holders.

Mr Richard Bradshaw, managing director for Asia at executive search firm Ethos BeathChapman, said despite the improvements that Compass brings to the application process, recent waves of firms’ cost-cutting and hiring freezes may not help Singapore’s quest for top foreign talent.

“In the broader picture, an overseas candidate considering a move to Singapore will factor in real-life challenges like increasing rental, high living costs, distance from home, macro economy and stabilities,” he added.

With current market uncertainties, he said, “It might still be a slow uptake for existing EP holders who are yet to renew”.

Dr Lei Hsien-Hsien, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce Singapore, said there will be roles that are needed as the economy evolves, especially in the digital and green economies.

“An update every three years, or even annually, may not be frequent enough given the fast-changing business environment,” she said, adding that she hopes Singapore continues to exercise flexibility in granting EPs.