Has Singapore gone too far in tightening tap on foreign manpower?

WHEN a North American company thought of starting an operation in Asia this year, Singapore was one of its top choices.

After being wooed by the Economic Development Board (EDB), it plumped for Singapore early this year.

To its horror, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) rejected its application to bring in seven foreign executives on high-skilled Employment Passes (EPs).

It was only after the EDB stepped in and talked to the MOM that the company finally secured those seven passes.

For foreign firms which come to Singapore expecting a smooth run, such hiccups can come as a surprise.

After all, the city state ranks at the top for ease of doing business on various surveys. It is also consistently ranked as one of the most competitive economies in the world with easy access to labour.

But that story of one company's brush with a tighter foreign manpower regime - in place since 2009 - was one Mr Shanker Iyer shared, to illustrate the growing fears among foreign companies and even the larger multinational corporations (MNCs) about the policy's impact on their ability to plan ahead.

Mr Iyer is chairman of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC), which represents more than 700 global companies based here. He says that as Singapore continues to tighten the tap on foreign workers, some firms are starting to think more carefully about what investments they want to sink here.

"MNCs with heavy investments look long-term. But with the changes in foreign worker policy, they are concerned with how exactly to look ahead," he says.

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