First it was restaurants, then retail. Now the arts is the latest sector to be hit by the tightening of regulations for hiring foreigners.
Several non-profit arts companies are feeling the heat of across-the-board measures such as the recent hike in the qualifying salary for foreign employment pass holders. They say there is not enough local talent in areas such as dance, music and musical theatre, which require many years of specialised, intensive training.
Those affected by the Manpower Ministry's new rules include full-time contemporary dance group Arts Fission Company and professional orchestras such as the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.
Arts Fission, helmed by Cultural Medallion recipient Angela Liong, has lost three full-time foreign dancers this year and may soon lose a fourth. Two years ago, Liong hired Vavarom Tavivoradilok on an Employment Pass, which is for foreign professionals. The 28-year-old Thai dancer is a political science graduate from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University who has been studying dance since the age of six.
Her pass came up for renewal recently, but she did not make the cut following the hike in the qualifying salary announced in September. Her application for the lower-tier S Pass, which is for mid-level skilled foreigners earning at least $2,200, was also rejected. She wants to apply again and hopes to stay on because "there are no full-time dance companies in Thailand".
Her monthly salary is under $3,000. Under the new rules, which kick in from January, young graduates from good educational institutions qualify for the Employment Pass if they earn at least $3,300, up from $3,000. Older applicants have to command higher salaries to qualify. The rules are aimed at making employers consider Singaporeans first.
But choreographer Liong says the blanket ruling "could affect the survival of the company". It employs six full-time dancers and lost three of them - from Thailand, Japan and China - earlier this year under similar circumstances.
She says the arts is a niche area, different from other industries in that "the skills and creative contribution of our dancers are not so easily replaceable by another". She looks for "thinking dancers", adding: "If I don't have great dancers who understand my ideas, they are just ideas."