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Compromised: Singapore as a Receptive Talent Hub

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With a surge of tech giants like Tencent and TikTok choosing to set up shop in Singapore, it’s no surprise that Singapore’s economical and company policies have been very welcoming of foreign companies. But for the most part, Singaporeans don’t seem to mind nearly as much with companies as they do on a more granular level, where skilled foreign talents are concerned.

Companies urged to hire more locals

And with COVID-19 running companies high and dry, forcing them to fire their employees, the Singaporean government has publicly urged companies to hire more locals. Earlier this year in August, the government announced another billion-dollar round of subsidies and incentives that would help promote local hiring. In September, it also placed 400 firms on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watchlist for hiring a higher share of PMETs, with many firms reportedly never exiting the watchlist. As a consequence, these firms have held back on work pass applications as HR practices are strengthened upon.

Pair this with the Facebook comments sections of most Today, CNA or Straits Times articles about foreign PMETs and it’s safe to assume that foreign professionals may not feel as welcome here as many think they do.

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CNA/Facebook

It looks like Singapore’s reputation for being open to talent has been compromised for now, or at least, is at risk.

Studies say we love foreign PMETs. Which studies?

The government’s feedback unit REACH recently conducted a survey with a sample size of 2,100 randomly selected Singaporeans aged above 15, via telephone. They also conducted an online poll with 1,050 Singaporeans within the same age range. All participants were selected at random, and the surveys were conducted between 11 to 21 August 2020 — still in the heat of a job market laden with COVID-19.

Following the survey, REACH released a statement saying that its poll indicated that “Singaporeans do not feel strongly negative about foreigners in Singapore”.

49% of respondents said that they were neutral with regard to foreigners in the country. A low percentage of 14% of Singaporeans were either negative, or very negative about foreigners in Singapore. Meanwhile, 35% of survey participants said that they felt positively or very positively about foreigners in Singapore.

Only 14% of Singaporeans feel negatively about foreigners

So, where negative comments are concerned, could it be that only 14% of Singaporeans are hoarding Facebook comments’ sections with negative sentiments and that they’ve actively shaped a general perception of Singaporeans disliking foreigners? It’s also worth noting that a majority of people who felt negatively about foreigners were unemployed at the time of the survey.

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CNA/Facebook

The relevance of this survey outside of a wavering job market would be questionable outside of COVID-19 times, but these times will also likely shape and dictate our job market for some time to come.

“During this difficult period, Singaporeans are understandably anxious over job security and career opportunities. The Government remains committed to helping Singaporeans keep their jobs or find new ones. Nevertheless, it is heartening to know that many Singaporeans understand the need for Singapore to remain open to global talent,” said Mr. Tan Kiat How, REACH Chairman and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of National Development.

Where times of emergency are concerned, it’s in the best interests of general sentiment for the government to protect Singaporean’s livelihoods first and foremost. If anything, COVID-19 proves a timely opportunity for a redistribution of jobs in Singapore, which some would argue has been a long time coming.

REACH Feedback Unit

Many have also proposed that the results of this survey could be biased, having come from a government body. As with all surveys, consideration must be given for respondents, who are likely to vary their answers out of concern for their perception in the eyes of surveyors. While survey respondents were contacted at random, no part of REACH’s release has indicators of the survey being conducted anonymously.

Meanwhile, all foreigners can do is watch

Many expatriates have suggested that Singaporeans might need to be more critical of job safety and competitiveness across the world.

In a report from Straits Times, Markus (placeholder name), a German professional who has been working in Singapore for eight years, said, “Here, when people complain about foreigners, they complain that they cannot get the highly paid jobs they want.”

“In Germany, when people complain about foreigners, they are complaining about crime — there are foreigners who are criminals”, he said.

Another foreigner quoted in the same report said, “We actually got rejected for PR, so I think realistically we can’t be here long term, and it makes it difficult when we put our children in schools, or when we plan our careers. We have a little bit of instability (that) Singaporeans would never have.”

Another foreigner, an expatriate running an offshore company who wanted to be known as Francis, has taken a neutral but questioning stance toward recent changes. He said that “even though I’m potentially on the receiving end — I respect the fact that Singapore has a hard line, and that they have to look after their own people first.”

However, he added, “I also think it’s more politically motivated than trying to solve problems.”

Calling for a more humane approach

Foreigners in Singapore need to live their lives on the edge. Associate Professor Leong Chan-Hoong of the Singapore University of Social Sciences has called for a more “humane” approach to work-pass processing for foreigners.

“For example, you can give a slightly longer visa. So after being laid off, instead of the usual two weeks or one month, they can extend to two months or even three months, so that you can help them ease into deciding if they can afford to stay in Singapore as a non-employed non-resident or choose to go back,” he said.

Cabinet Ministers and Lee Hsien Loong urge caution

In parliament last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans against giving “the wrong impression that we are now closing up and no longer welcoming foreigners”.

Cabinet ministers have followed suit, pointing out that Singapore must not be averse to maintaining a cosmopolitan society. Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC Joan Pereira discomfort from Singaporeans about foreigners is “alarming”.

She vocalised that Singapore needs to maintain its economic competitiveness and structural social fabric while working with international workers and firms.

“All of us must understand that a Singapore that closes its doors to the outside world is bad for us,” she said, and she has a pretty good point.

 

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