Immigration, Population, and Foreign Workforce in Singapore: An Overview of Trends, Policies, and Issues, pp. 3 of 13

Work Permit holders are under strict regulations. They can only work in the occupation specified on the Permit, and the Permit is terminated once the employment ends. They are not allowed to bring family members, nor to marry a Singapore citizen or a permanent resident (PR) without the approval of the Ministry of Manpower. Female workers are prohibited from pregnancy and childbirth in Singapore. Furthermore, Work Permit holders are not eligible to apply for Permanent Residence (PR). In contrast, S Pass and EP holders with a monthly salary above S$5,000 are allowed to bring the closest family members as dependants; and they are not restricted from marrying a local citizen/PR or from childbirth in Singapore. Furthermore, EP and S Pass holders can apply for PR. Entrepass holders can also bring their family members on certain conditions, and are eligible for PR through the “Global Investment Programme.”[iii] The hiring of Work Permit and S Pass holders are subjected to government quotas and levies in order to discourage over-reliance on foreign labour. A summary of the eligibility criteria and rules governing different work passes is presented in the Appendix.

From the above succinct overview of Singapore’s foreign manpower regime, it is evident that the issues of immigration and foreign manpower are highly intertwined in the city-state. In fact, it is not an overstatement to suggest that the Work Pass system serves as the foundation as well as the single most important channel for immigration into Singapore. Next, this highly intertwined labour-immigration system is explained along two fundamental underlying dimensions: economic development and demographic change.

Economic development

Singapore’s post-Independence (1965) economic evolution may be divided into two phases, 1965 to the late 1990s and early 2000s to date (Phang & Tan, 2004; Tan & Bhaskaran, 2015). In the first phase, the economy was mainly driven by foreign direct investment (FDI) through multinational corporations (MNCs). With limited natural resources and no hinterland, Singapore adopted an export-oriented economic strategy. To this end, the Economic Development Board (EDB) was set up in 1961 specifically to attract FDI. Besides promoting Singapore abroad, it also provided one-stop services for MNCs entering the country. These efforts included but were not limited to developing industrial estates, providing tax breaks, and training local workforce. This economic development model proved successful. By the late 1970s, Singapore had emerged as one of the “four tiger economies” in Asia, along with Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

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