Guide to the 3 Main Types of Work Passes in S’pore Since Everyone’s Talking About It

What’s everyone in the coffee shop talking about?

The deafening silence made by Dee Kosh, who’s never been this quiet for so long.

But of course, on the other side of the coffee shop, another group is talking about something that’s making so much noise on social media, you wonder if Dee Kosh has finally spoken out.

Foreign manpower.

Anti-establishment Facebook users have often spoken about this on the social media platform that’s made up of angry people, but now, even the authorities have stepped in to discuss this issue.

Do we have too many foreign workers in Singapore? How can we ensure that businesses survive while making sure that Singaporeans are employed? Why is Dee Kosh still not responding?

For a layman, it’s easy to confuse anyone who’s not a Singaporean as someone competing for our jobs, but do you know that the competition exists only for certain jobs, since there are some jobs that we Singaporeans would avoid altogether?

Do you know that for work permit holders, they’d have to be from certain countries, so your Filipino friend is most likely a diploma holder?

Chim?

No worries; Goody Feed is here to simplify everything for you so that you’d sound smarter during your coffeeshop talk.

The Basics: It’s Not Just Work Pass

For a start, here’s something you ought to know: as long as a foreigner can stay in Singapore for a long period of time (i.e. not a tourist), he or she must hold a pass.

It doesn’t need to be a work pass: it can be a student pass (for students), dependent’s pass (for spouses of foreigners working here) or even Training Work Pass, a 6-month pass for foreigners who are in Singapore for training.

Anyone who has a pass is considered a “Singapore resident” since he or she lives in Singapore for whatever reasons.

But of course, you’re here to know more about work passes, and here’s when it gets a tad complicated again: there are many types of work passes.

There is the EntrePass, which is for eligible foreign entrepreneurs wanting to start and operate a new business in Singapore. An example? Nas Daily.

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There is the Personalised Employment Pass, for high-earning foreign professionals who has been drawing at least $18,000 a month overseas for at least six months. An example? If Mark Zuckerberg decides to work as a CEO here in Singapore, though I’m not sure if MOM approves an android instead of a human or not.

There is the Work Permit for foreign domestic workers, which, as the name suggests, is for domestic workers.

Heck, there’s even a Work Permit for confinement nanny, which are for Malaysian confinement nannies to work in Singapore for up to 16 weeks starting from the birth of the employer’s child.

However, if we talk about normal work pass for employment in a company based in Singapore, there are three main types:  Work Permit, S Pass and E Pass.

You’d have also realised that people have been talking more about E Pass holders than anyone else.

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Well, read on and everything will make sense.

Work Permit

For a start, this is the job that Singaporeans might not want to take up.


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It’s only for five sectors:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Marine shipyard
  • Process
  • Services

And that makes sense because in these sectors, you’d need unskilled or semi-skilled workers.

An example would be a restaurant, which is under “Services”. Unlike an investment firm that hires just skilled people who can read a chart that looks like multiple candles being placed together, a restaurant would require semi-skilled workers like servers and dish-washers.

In 1970s, Singaporeans would take the jobs to make ends meet. In 1990s, young Singaporean students who want to buy the latest Crumpler bags would take up the job part-time while studying full-time. Now? Companies have to depend on work permit holders because Gen-Z folks are spending their time on TikTok instead.

For work permit holders, it has a lot more restrictions than other work pass holders.


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Firstly, they can only engage people from certain countries depending on the sector. For a restaurant under “Services”, the countries are

  • Malaysia
  • People’s Republic of China (PRC)
  • Hong Kong (HKSAR passport)
  • Macau
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan

And of course, for the construction sector, there would be more approved countries like India and Bangladesh.

That’s the reason why you don’t usually see a person from Bangladesh serving you food in a restaurant.

Other than that, there’s a quota and levy for these workers, and once again, it depends a lot on the sector. For a restaurant, the quota is now at 38%—which means only 38% of the employees can be work permit holders or S-Pass holders. This will be reduced to 35% from 1 January 2021.

There are many more factors involved, like the number of PRCs can only be 8% lah, S-Pass holders are also included in the total quota lah, etc. So don’t cast the numbers to stone; instead, head down to MOM website to check out the exact figure for your business.


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The levy payable is also dependent on how many foreign workers the company has, and as expected, the more foreigners you have in your company, the higher levy you have to pay per foreign workers.

Also, for non-Malaysian workers, the company would have to buy a $5,000 security bond for each foreign worker you employ, so that if the company or the worker breaks any Work Permit conditions, it’d be used to pay the Government.

Before you call yourself a Work Permit Expert, remember: these are just the basics.

Now, moving on to the next pass: the S Pass.

S Pass

Ah, this is much easier to explain.


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This is for mid-skilled technical staff and the worker can be from any country. However, he or she must earn more than $2,400 (raised to $2,500 from 1 October 2020) and has at least a degree or diploma.

Unlike work permit, this isn’t so complicated because it’s just split into two sectors: service sector and other sectors.

For the service sector, the quota is 13% of the company’s total workforce (which includes the work permit holders, if any) while for other sectors, it can be up to 20%.


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There are some changes soon, too, which you can see here:

Image: MOM

And as usual, the more S Pass holders you have, the more levy you’d need to pay. But on average it’s either $330 or $650 per employee.

And now, we can finally move on to what everyone’s talking about: E Pass.

E Pass

Here’s why everyone’s talking about this pass: because unlike Work Permit Pass and S Pass, there’s no quota or levy for this pass.

Image: Gipfy

In other words, technically speaking, a company can technically have many E Pass holders if it’s rich enough.


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The only key requirement here? The employee must earn at least $4,500 ($5,000 for people in the financial services sector come 1 December 2020) and has an accredited degree.

The company, however, has to advertise the job positions to Singaporeans first before moving on to engage any foreigners.

Needless to say, with Singaporeans losing their jobs due to COVID-19, people have been lobbying to tighten the requirements for E Pass.

The authorities have said that they would be keeping a close eye on companies that discriminate against locals for their hiring practices.

In recent days, some MPS have suggested putting a quota in E Pass or even increasing the minimum salary for other sectors, too.


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One can only wonder what’s going to happen in 2021. Would the workforce in Singapore look very different?


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