In its ongoing effort to maintain the size of its foreign workforce while still achieving significant economic growth, the Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has announced that it will take further steps to limit the number of foreign workers to one-third of the country's total workforce.  Beginning January 1, 2012, the MOM, whose Work Pass Division (WPD) facilitates and regulates the employment of foreign nationals in Singapore, will enforce increased minimum salary level standards and elevated educational requirements for Employment Pass (EP) applicants.

Singapore's EP program allows foreign professionals who earn the minimum fixed monthly salary set by the MOM and possess a recognized degree, professional qualification, and/or specialist skill to work in Singapore.

The January 1, 2012 changes will affect the Q1 and P2 EP categories, which are reserved for professional, managerial, executive, and specialist positions. Applicants for the Q1 Pass will be held to higher educational qualification requirements to the extent that the applicant must have graduated from a "good quality institution." Although the MOM does not explicitly define what a "good quality institution" is, it provides a list of approved institutions on its website.  Additionally, the current $2,800 SGD minimum salary for Q1 Pass applicants will no longer serve as the single qualifying salary requirement. Recently graduated Q1 applicants from "good institutions" will now have to earn at least $3,000 SGD per month. Older Q1 applicants (i.e., non-recent graduates) must receive higher salaries commensurate with work experience and the quality of work they are expected to bring. As for P2 Pass applicants, the qualifying monthly salary will be raised from $4,000 SGD to $4,500 SGD.  The P1 Pass qualifying salary will not be affected, as it will remain at $8,000 SGD.

For those applicants who may not otherwise possess the minimum qualifications required under the newly updated EP program, the MOM has announced that it will review each applicant on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the applicant has significant work experience or an exceptional skill set.

As noted above, the new EP requirements apply only to new EP applications filed on or after January 1, 2012.  As such, the MOM has further clarified that existing EP holders whose passes expire:

  • Before January 1, 2012 will receive a one-time renewal of up to two years based on the pre-July 2011 EP criteria;  
  • Between January 1, 2012 and June 30, 2012 (both dates inclusive) will receive a one-time renewal of up to one year on the existing EP criteria; and  
  • On or after July 1, 2012 will be evaluated under the new EP criteria.

Any existing EP holder filing a new EP application to change employers after January 1, 2012 will be subject to the new EP framework.