Work-pass squeeze hits foreigners and firms

PHOTO: Work-pass squeeze hits foreigners and firms

SINGAPORE - Filipino assistant retail manager Jovie Pascual, 36, is unsure about his future in Singapore.

He is unlikely to get permanent residency (PR) as he was downgraded from holding an Employment Pass (EP) to a lower-skilled S Pass in August. Non-EP holders usually find it difficult to become PRs.

His monthly pay of $2,800 did not make the EP cut after the qualifying salary was raised from $2,800 to $3,000 in January last year.

"I love living here. If possible, I want my daughter to take up citizenship. But I am not sure if this will happen now," he said.

A growing number of EP holders have been pushed down to S Passes, raising concerns for both foreign workers and local firms.

There are quotas and levies for S Passes - limitations and expenses which do not apply to EPs.

By squeezing workers into the S Pass band, the authorities are making it less attractive for firms to employ foreigners.

Foreigners would also find it more difficult to stay here permanently.

From January last year, till June this year, 9,600 EP holders were switched to S Passes.

Another 14,200 S Pass holders did not hold EPs previously, but could have qualified under the old rules, according to figures from the Manpower Ministry.

It is likely that more will be bumped off to the S Pass category when the salary criterion for EP holders goes up again.

From next year, EP applicants must earn at least $3,300 a month, up from $3,000 now, following an announcement last month. This is for young graduates; older and more experienced applicants will have to earn even more.

Firms face pressures with the measures. First, there are monthly levies for the S Pass: $300 per worker if S Pass holders form less than 10 per cent of headcount, and $450 otherwise. There are no levies to hire EP holders.

Another disadvantage of the S Pass is that, unlike the EP, it is subject to quotas. S Pass holders can form no more than 15 per cent of a services firm's headcount, and no more than 20 per cent of headcount in other sectors.

Creative firm Alchemy Partnership is one business which is feeling the squeeze as it has reached its S Pass quota. Of his firm's only EP holder, executive director Raj Mulani says: "I wouldn't mind if he was downgraded, except that we are already at our limit."

Other bosses such as LSK Engineering managing director Roger Heng are hoping that they can keep their workers on the EP by raising their salaries. His firm has about 20 engineers on EPs.

"If they are good then we have to look at how we can increase their pay, maybe by giving them more responsibilities," he said.

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