All questions

Employer sponsorship

Most work passes require employer sponsorship. The work pass framework largely only caters to persons who already have firm offers of jobs in Singapore. Work passes are not granted to jobseekers. A work pass is also specific to an employment and must be surrendered for cancellation when a person leaves his or her employer. The exception is the PEP, which, as the name suggests, is personal to the holder so that he or she can use it from one job to another for the duration of the pass; and the EntrePass, which is granted to qualifying self-employed individuals.

The sponsor company is normally expected to be a well-established, Singapore-registered company. It is expected to furnish the respective numbers of its local (i.e., citizen and permanent resident) and foreign employees, and its business turnover for the past three years, as part of the work pass application. In the case of a newly incorporated subsidiary, it is possible to get around the lack of a business record in Singapore and to establish one's bona fides by capitalising the subsidiary with a respectable level of paid-up share capital or by disclosing the financials of the parent company.

A Singapore company can be wholly foreign-owned; there is no local shareholding requirement. But a company must have at least one director who is ordinarily resident in Singapore. The resident director need not be a Singapore citizen or permanent resident. A person holding a work pass can qualify as a resident director.

The sponsor is required to certify, confirm and ensure that:

  1. the work pass application is made for the purpose as stated by the foreign employee;
  2. the information set out in the application is true and correct; and
  3. the foreign employee fully understands the declarations made in his or her application.

It is necessary to keep copies of the foreign employee's educational certificates as declared in the application form for the duration of the foreigner's employment.

i Work permits

The relevant work passes for professionals, executives, business owners and mid-level to highly skilled workers are the employment pass and the S pass.

Employment pass

The basic requirements to be considered for an employment pass are a fixed monthly salary of S$3,600 for young graduates, rising with age and experience and also acceptable qualifications (as defined below).

Fixed monthly salary

For the purposes of evaluating an employment pass application, 'fixed monthly salary' means basic salary and fixed allowances; that is, remuneration and allowances that do not vary from month to month; regardless, for example, of employee or company performance. It excludes:

  1. variable allowances;
  2. overtime payments, bonuses, commissions, or annual wage supplements;
  3. in-kind payments;
  4. reimbursements;
  5. productivity incentive payments;
  6. contributions by the employer to any pension or provident fund (including contributions made on the employee's behalf); or
  7. any gratuity payable on discharge, retrenchment or retirement.
Acceptable qualifications

Acceptable qualifications include:

  1. good degrees (see below);
  2. professional qualifications;
  3. specialist skills; or
  4. a proven track record and exceptional skill set.

Degree-awarding institutions are recognised according to their global and country rankings by independent accreditation boards (such as QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities), the employment outcomes of their graduates and their enrolment standards. The MOM has been known to reject applications where the qualifications do not come from a listed institution.

Most employment pass applications are submitted online. An employer must first apply for a CorpPass account for access to online government services and then specifically register for the online employment pass application system. Setting up the CorpPass and EP Online accounts (both one-time procedures) takes about a week. Then the MOM takes about three weeks to decide an employment pass application. Longer processing times are to be expected for applications sponsored by newly incorporated companies.

Hard-copy applications (save for one category of employment pass for which the processing time is eight weeks) have been phased out.

It is possible to request an employment pass for up to 60 months. In practice, employment passes are mostly granted for 12 or 24 months at a time. However, they are renewable indefinitely, subject to:

  1. checks by the MOM with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore on the taxpaying record of the individual;
  2. the business performance of the employer continuing to justify the person's employment; and
  3. the employment pass policy and criteria prevailing at the time of renewal.

An employment pass does not require the holder to be physically present in Singapore for any minimum number of days in a year.

PEPs

A PEP is intended for the highest-earning professionals, managers and executives. Unlike sponsored work passes, a PEP is specific to the holder and will not be cancelled when the PEP holder leaves his or her employment; the MOM merely has to be notified of each change in the holder's employment status. The holder may remain in Singapore on the PEP for up to six months between jobs.

A PEP is issued only once, for a three-year duration, and cannot be renewed. The intent behind the PEP is that the person will, after three years in Singapore, take the next step of applying to become a permanent resident and assimilate into the Singapore talent pool.

The basic requirement for a foreign national to obtain a PEP is a last-drawn fixed monthly salary of S$18,000 or more. The foreigner must file the PEP application within six months of the last drawn salary. An employment pass holder (i.e., an individual who is already working in Singapore) whose fixed monthly salary is S$12,000 or more may also apply for a PEP. The entire process usually takes about eight weeks.

The PEP is not available to self-employed freelancers, sole proprietors, partners, company director–shareholders, journalists, editors, subeditors or producers.

PEP applications must be made in hard copy, not online. PEPs have the same dependant privileges as employment passes.

EntrePass

The EntrePass is intended for foreign entrepreneurs to start new businesses in Singapore and contribute to local employment. As such, an EntrePass application normally involves a proposed company rather than an already existing local sponsor or employer.

A new EntrePass is issued for 12 months and can be renewed, subject to certain criteria. It is valid for another 12 months after the first renewal, and thereafter for 24 months for subsequent renewals. The EntrePass application requires the applicant to provide his or her work experience as well as a detailed business plan. The required business form is a Singapore private limited company.

One of the following criteria must be fulfilled:

  1. the company receives at least S$100,000 funding from an unrelated venture capitalist or business angel that is accredited by a Singapore government agency;
  2. the company holds intellectual property related to its business contributed by one or more of the shareholders and registered with the Singapore Copyright Office or an approved foreign IP institution;
  3. the company is involved in ongoing research collaboration with a research institution recognised by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research or institutes of higher learning in Singapore;
  4. the company is an incubatee at a Singapore government-supported incubator;
  5. the applicant has a significant business network and entrepreneurial track record;
  6. the applicant has a record of extraordinary achievements in the areas relevant to the intended business; or
  7. the applicant has a good investment track record.

EntrePass applications are made in hard copy, and assessed jointly by the MOM, IMDA, SGInnovate and SPRING Singapore.

Renewal of an EntrePass depends on evidence of business activities, continuing shareholding in the company and employment created for locals (i.e., Singapore citizens or permanent residents) and business expenditure. Apart from the requirement that the EntrePass holder own at least 30 per cent of the shares in the company at the end of the first year, the following requirements must also be fulfilled:

After yearNo. of local employeesMinimum business expenditure
TwoOne PME or three other full-time employees (FTEs)S$100,000
FourTwo PMEs or six other FTEsS$200,000
SixThree PMEs or nine other FTEsS$300,000
Eight and laterFour PMEs or 12 other FTEsS$400,000

Business expenditure for this purpose is defined as operating expenses less the amount of any royalties, franchise fees or know-how fees to overseas recipients, any work subcontracted overseas, and the EntrePass holder's remuneration from the company.

S pass

Persons who do not earn enough or do not have the qualifications to secure an employment pass may obtain an S pass. For work pass purposes, these employees are described as mid-level skilled technical workers. The criteria are a fixed monthly salary starting at S$2,300 and rising with age and work experience; educational qualifications from technical certificates corresponding to at least one year of full-time study through polytechnic diplomas to university degrees; and any relevant work experience. S pass applications are made through the same online system as employment passes and likewise usually take about three weeks to be processed. There is, however, an S Pass quota that obliges employers to maintain an industry-specific ratio of local and foreign employees.

Renewals and appeals

Employment and S passes may be renewed as early as six months before the pass expires. (The PEP is issued just once, and the EntrePass is only renewable three months before expiry.) Renewal largely involves the employer updating the employee's data (if it has not been necessary to do so already) and is generally a routine matter, unless there has been a change in policy or in the qualifying requirements for the pass.

Statutorily, any person who is aggrieved by a decision not to issue or renew a work pass (or to revoke a work pass) may appeal to the MOM, whose decision is final. There is no forum or tribunal or appeal should an application for the grant or renewal of a work pass be refused. An applicant is not entitled to know the reasons for refusal. Nonetheless, as a matter of practice, it has always been possible to appeal in writing for a review of an unfavourable decision. Also, the Work Pass Division does specify and ask for fuller or better information or documents. This is done so that it may have sufficient information to consider and approve an application, rather than reject it without any feedback.

ii Labour market regulation

Contract and tort law are relevant. The Employment Act, the Industrial Relations Act, the Trade Unions Act, the Retirement Age Act, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Act, the Work Injury Compensation Act and the Workplace Health and Safety Act are also important sources of employment law in Singapore.

The CPF Act, for instance, makes it mandatory for employers to contribute to their employees' national pension fund (CPF) accounts. Under the CPF scheme, Singaporean employees and permanent residents generally contribute 20 per cent of their salary to the CPF, while their employers make a 17 per cent CPF contribution over and above the salary paid to the employee. The contribution levels do vary with age. And there is a cap on contributions. Additionally, new permanent residents phase into the CPF scheme over three years, meaning that full CPF contributions at the normal levels are required in respect of a permanent resident only in his or her third year. Foreigners on work passes are excluded from this scheme. This means that, at the same wages, Singaporean employees and permanent residents are structurally more expensive to employ than work pass holders.

The Employment Act regulates conditions of service and seeks to prevent malpractice and abuses at the work place (e.g., imposing limits on overtime work, regulating entitlement to sick leave). The Act, however, does not offer protection to employees if they earn more than S$4,500 in a 'managerial or executive position' (which has not been clearly defined). The presumption is that such employees are better able to protect their own interests and hence do not need statutory protection.

Apart from litigation, arbitration or mediation, employees or employers can approach the MOM for free mediation or conciliation services when there is an employment dispute.

iii Rights and duties of sponsored employeesSpousal and familial applications

An employment pass holder with a fixed monthly salary of at least S$6,000 may be accompanied by his or her spouse, partner, or children under dependant's passes or long-term visit passes. An employment pass holder with a fixed monthly salary of at least S$12,000 may be accompanied by his or her parents. The dependant's pass and long-term visit pass eligibility matrix is as follows:

Fixed monthly salaryRelationshipEligible for
S$12,000 and aboveParentsLong-term visit pass
S$6,000 and aboveSpouse (legally married)Dependant's pass
Unmarried children under 21 yearsDependant's pass
Common-law spouseLong-term visit pass
Unmarried handicapped children over 21 yearsLong-term visit pass
Unmarried stepchildren under 21 yearsLong-term visit pass

An S pass holder earning a fixed monthly salary of S$6,000 or more has the same dependant's pass privileges as an employment pass. Otherwise, S pass holders may not bring their families to live in Singapore.

Dependant privileges for an EntrePass holder are subject to different criteria, namely, employment created for locals and annual business expenditure:

Local employeesBusiness expenditureRelationshipEligible for
Two PMEs or six other FTEs$200,000ParentsLong-term visit pass
One PME or three other FTEs$100,000Spouse (legally married)Dependant's pass
Unmarried children under 21 yearsDependant's pass
Common-law spouseLong-term visit pass
Unmarried handicapped children over 21 yearLong-term visit pass
Unmarried stepchildren under 21 yearsLong-term visit pass

A dependant's pass or a long-term visit pass is granted for the duration of the work pass. As a general rule, the practical difference between the long-term visit pass and the dependant's pass is that the person with a dependant's pass may obtain a letter of consent to work in Singapore whereas the long-term visit pass holder may not work; that is to say, the latter must qualify for a work pass on his or her merits to be able to work in Singapore.

There is no public guidance from the MOM on whether dependant's passes and long-term social visit passes are available to same-sex spouses and partners. Male homosexual acts or 'gross indecency' between 'any male person' and 'any [other] male person' are legally criminal offences punishable with up to two years' imprisonment, but prosecutions are rare.

Cancellation of work pass

When the work pass holder leaves his or her job, the pass must be cancelled and the card surrendered to the Work Pass Division. When the work pass is cancelled, the person will receive a 30-day short-term visit pass. A visit pass can be extended for up to 89 days. Work pass holders are also required to pay any outstanding income taxes in Singapore before they leave. There is a 'tax clearance' obligation on the employer to notify the Revenue of a foreign national's impending departure at least one month in advance, and withhold any monies owing to the employee pending clearance from the Revenue.