Spotlight on Singapore: The Transition to Living with an “Endemic”

Foreign labor has long been a hot-button issue in Singapore, and uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased employment worries among locals as the city-state recovers from last year’s record recession. With the recent speech at the parliament about securing Singaporean’s jobs and livelihoods, the minister has strongly reinforced that the presence of foreign workers is not a threat to the employment of Singaporeans.

In this International Practice Spotlight, EIG Singapore Manager Erdiana Kamarudin outlines the current status in Singapore and the plans for transitioning from pandemic response to endemic living. 

Given the dynamic nature of the Singaporean governments’ response to COVID-19, Erickson Immigration Group will continue to share updates as more news is available. If you have questions about anything we’re reporting or case-specific questions, please contact your employer or EIG attorney.

Government Action on Work Passes

The government has been tightening foreign worker policies for several years while taking steps to promote local hiring, including raising the salary threshold for issuing work passes. The government will continue to gradually and progressively tighten the criteria for work visas. While the government continues to ensure qualifying salaries for foreigners keep pace with local wages, they are also studying how to improve the work visa framework.

Below you can see the changes on Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass salary criteria over the years:

*The minimum qualifying salary in the financial services sector has been consistently higher than in other sectors. Dec. 1, 2020, the minimum qualifying salary is S$5,000.

Foreign Talent Movement

Business Times reported Singapore saw fluctuations in foreign talent since the inception of the pandemic in 2020. The spread of COVID-19 resulted in foreigners moving out of Singapore due to job losses, adverse business conditions, and more stringent criteria for work passes. Many of them chose to leave Singapore to move back home to be with their families during this state of uncertainty. Towards the end of 2020 and Q1 2021, there was more inbound traffic, but as border restrictions increased again, inbound travel has slowed.

Businesses have been adapting to this fluid situation with an extra layer of safety concerns and restrictions. We see mobility teams and immigration firms work hand in hand to provide adequate services and support to affected employees. Businesses are aware of changing relocation patterns, and that remote work is set to stay in the post-pandemic global climate. As a result, mobility is becoming a key priority for companies, which are trying to arrange for flexible work and remote positions for their employees.

Reopening the Economy

Singapore continues to reopen the economy and live with an endemic coronavirus. We have recently seen borders gradually open with a vaccinated travel lane with Germany and Brunei from September 8. Entry approvals for most foreign workers and their dependents have restarted from August 10, on the condition that they must be fully vaccinated before arrival. Also, certain fully vaccinated travelers from Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Norway, South Korea, and Switzerland can apply to serve stay-home notices at their places of residence rather than dedicated facilities.

Singapore has also made the following changes from 11:59 pm, September 22, 2021:

  • Travelers with travel history to Indonesia to transit to Singapore will be subject to Category IV border measures. They will have to serve a 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN) at dedicated facilities and perform self-administered Antigen Rapid Test (ARTs) on three of those days.
  • Poland and Saudi Arabia will be added to Category II, joining countries such as Australia, Brunei, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea. Travelers from Category II countries need to do an on-arrival Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test; serve a seven-day SHN at a place of accommodation or self-sourced hotel, and do an SHN exit PCR test on day seven.
  • Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Latvia, Portugal, and Spain will be added to Category III. Vaccinated travelers from these countries may apply to serve their 14-day SHN at a suitable accommodation of their choice (residential address, hotels, or serviced apartments). Unvaccinated travelers will still be required to undergo a 14-day SHN at dedicated facilities.