The proportion of Indian professionals in Singapore has doubled from 13 per cent to 26 per cent between 2005 and 2020. The senior minister stated that the numbers rose because there is a global trend in the demand and supply for tech talent, not because of the “favourable treatment” of Indian nationals.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore’s economy slowed down, and job losses weighed down on people. At a time like this, locals are accusing the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) – a free trade agreement signed in 2005 between Singapore and India – allowing Indian nationals to enter Singapore and steal jobs from the locals.
Manpower Minister Tan See Leng told Parliament that the proportion of employment pass (EP) holders who are Indian nationals living in Singapore has doubled from 13 per cent to 26 per cent between 2005 and 2020.
Tan further confirmed that the increase was not because Indian nationals are given “favourable treatment” under the CECA but because of the rapid growth of Singapore’s digital economy and finance and trends in the global demand and supply for tech talent.
The minister also said the locals’ belief that their jobs are being taken away by the Indian nationals is nothing but a misconception because it is not like the jobs will go to the locals if the Indian nationals did not get them.
Stressing the fact that Singapore currently does not have enough locals to fill the jobs available, the minister was quoted as saying: “As every sector seeks to be digitally enabled, their need for tech talent has grown significantly.”
Six thousand jobs remain unfilled in the info comms sector alone.
According to human resources ministry data, as of December 2020, there are 1,231,500 foreign workers, including 177,000 EP holders, in Singapore. Most of them are in the information and communications technology (19 per cent), professional services (19 per cent) and finance sector (15 per cent).
Foreign professionals, managers and executives work in Singapore with the help of an Employment Pass. Among other kinds of passes are S pass for mid-level skilled staff; Work Permit for semi-skilled foreign workers in the construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard, process or services sector; and Work Permit for foreign domestic workers.
According to Tan, Singapore cannot possibly tell foreign investors that they will only hire Singaporeans and close itself off for foreign workers — this would lead to several people not investing in the city-state. Tan dismissed the belief that Indian nationals constituted most foreign workers and said that China, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom are the countries most EP holders come from. Since 2005, these nationalities have made up two-thirds of all EP holders.
The percentage of workers from India has doubled since 2005; however, the rate of EP holders from China has remained more or less stable.
As per Tan’s statement, India and China are globally two of the largest suppliers of tech talent. Several startups worth over USD 1 billion have emerged in China.
“Given our relative shortage of manpower, even if the workers don’t come from India, they will come from somewhere else…The point is: are they helping our companies? Are they helping us to grow our economy and create better Singaporean jobs? The answer is yes,” Tan said.
However, Tan did acknowledge the anxiety among Singaporeans and said that it is understandable given the EP holders’ transient nature.
“Apart from some EP holders who settle down and become Permanent Residents (PRs) or Singapore Citizens, most of them work here for a few years, and they either return home or move on elsewhere. So it is to be expected that they are different, and we feel they are different,” he said.
According to Tan, the current situation with Indian nationals is similar to what happened in the 2000s when people became anxious when the share of Chinese nationals working in Singapore saw a massive rise.
“We have to bring in the talent and skills to keep our economy growing while tracking that the number of foreigners in our midst stays at a level we are able to cope with and manage the social frictions that will arise from time to time. This is a series of trade-offs,” Tan said.
“It is not a once-off adjustment. It is a constant balance that we have to continuously monitor and get right,” he added.
He added that the government monitors the concentration of nationalities in firms through the Fair Consideration Framework.
Tan said that the government never tolerates discriminatory hiring practices. Before hiring foreigners, companies are first required to advertise vacancies on the MyCareersFuture job portal for Singaporeans.
“The simple point is that while we have a good Singaporean talent pool, our pool is not large enough to fulfil all of the needs, the breadth and the depth of these enterprises. And very often also foreigners bring in skills which complement the Singaporeans’ skill sets as well,” he said.