Is it really THAT easy to get an EP in Singapore?

By March 16, 2017Current

This post is part of the series Budget 2017

Other posts in this series:

  1. Budget 2017: The National Budget Process
  2. Will we see a Budget which spends more than what we have?
  3. Three reasons to cheer the Early Childhood Development Centres Act

TL;DR – They said so.

Have you watched that British blogger Georgia Caney’s video where she said one does not necessarily need a degree to apply for an EP to work in Singapore?

I think the problem is not about whether or not one has a degree, but more of whether the foreigner is a talent or not, and whether those talents are in abundance in Singapore.

First off, what is an EP?

There are different passes that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) issues to foreigners to work in Singapore, and they are categorised into two broad types, for Professionals and for the Skilled and Semi-skilled Workers.

Generally speaking, a company will have to be subject to manpower quote and payment of foreign worker levy when applying for S Passes and Work Permits. The number of S Pass holders a company can hire is limited by a quota:

  • 15% of the company’s total workforce in the services sector
  • 20% in all other sectors

The hiring company must also pay a monthly levy for these workers. This foreign worker levy is effectively a pricing mechanism to regulate the number of foreign workers in Singapore.

So, what about the Employment Pass (EP)?

S Passes are for foreign professionals with a job offer in Singapore who meet the eligibility criteria, and can only be applied by the hiring company on behalf of the foreign professional. There is a minimum salary requirement of at least $3,600. First-time candidates will be issued with a pass with a 2-year validity and subsequent renewals are for up to 3 years

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The minimum salary requirement used to be $3,300 and has been adjusted upwards to $3,600 with effect from January 2017.

What are eligible to apply for Employment Passes (EP)?

According to the information on MOM’s website, the conditions are:

  • Have a job offer in Singapore
  • Work in a managerial, executive or specialised job
  • Earn a fixed monthly salary of at least $3,600
  • Older and more experienced candidates need higher salaries to qualify
  • Have acceptable qualifications, usually a good university degree, professional qualifications or specialist skills.

So, is it easy to apply at all?

Since there is a Self-Assesement Tool (SAT) available on MOM’s website, I decided to try it out for myself with different conditions.

Now since the British beauty blogger started it all, I decided to use her as a case in point – a Makeup Artist.

Scenario 1

Makeup artist with no professional certificates and less than a year’s experience.
Result: EP not likely to be approved; likely to qualify only for S Pass.


Scenario 2

Makeup artist with bachelor’s degree in tourism studies and three years’ work experience.
Result: EP not likely to be approved; likely to qualify only for S Pass.


Scenario 3

Makeup artist with bachelor’s degree in tourism studies (same as Scenario 2 above), but with six years’ work experience, and an added second qualification in Makeup from the London School of Makeup.
Result: EP not likely to be approved; likely to qualify only for S Pass.


Scenario 4

For this scenario, let’s try something a little different – an Australian applying for the position of a Marketing Director and a salary of $8,000. I’d indicated a highest qualification of an MBA with eight years’ work experience.
Result: Likely to qualify for both EP and S Pass.

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This is just an online tool to give applicants an idea of eligibility and success rate, but actual approval really depends on each individual case. It is not only about how qualified and suitable the foreign professional is, it is also about whether the employer will be allowed to hire foreigners, especially so for S Passes where there are quotas and levies involved.

50 companies ‘blacklisted’ by MOM

According to Minster for Manpower, Lim Swee Say, who had addressed this issue during the Budget debate in Parliament last week, 50 companies had been taken to task for failing to give Singaporeans a fair chance when recruiting. Minister Lim said that some 500 applications from these 50 companies have been rejected as a result. Minister Lim said,

“We have not seen enough improvement after six months of engagement with them. We will continue to curtail their work pass privileges until they improve.”

He further shared that these companies come from various industries like information and communication technology, and finance and insurance.

250 companies on watchlist

On top of these 50 companies that have been blacklisted, another 250 companies were on its watchlist as at end of February. Once companies are placed on the watchlist, they will be guided by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) to improve their employment practices over a period of six months.

Subsequent to the intervention by MOM and TAFEP, some of these 250 companies have responded positively and have hired 800 more Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) collectively since they were placed on the watchlist. He said,

“If they continue to improve and adopt fair and progressive practices, they can progressively be removed from the watchlist.”

via Channelnewsasia

I don’t believe in protectionist measures when it comes to foreign talents, but equal employment opportunities must be given to fellow Singaporeans. We should not keep out exceptional talent from outside of Singapore, but to actually bring in foreign talents so that we can learn from and work with the best.

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In any case, even if you can build a wall around Singapore and keep the foreign professionals out, it is still entirely possible for our local jobs to be competed away so long as it is a job that can be performed elsewhere and sent back here via the internet. So what is better is for us all to accept that this is the era of disruption and industries can be wiped out or disrupted by new technologies overnight.

So, to answer the question in the title,

Nope, I don’t think it’s that easy. But resilience and adaptability are the keys to survival, and lifelong learning will be the way we cope with the changes that are happening more quickly than ever.


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Gabrielle Teo

Author Gabrielle Teo

I read lots, and I also spend an indecent amount of time trying to get my mostly unpopular opinions published. Oh, I argue a lot with fellow Singaporeans who complain incessantly about Singapore too.

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