Singapore seeks people who make over a quarter of a million dollars annually.
A new, flexible five-year work visa for foreigners who earn at least S$30,000 ($21,500) a month is the latest move in a campaign to woo an elite group that only accounts for 5% of the city-expatriate state's workers.
The latest plan from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is aimed at experts in some professions who earn less than that base wage level as well as high-paid workers throughout the world, but the truth is that it ups the ante with Hong Kong at a time when the former British colony is vulnerable.
Hong Kong is seeing a historic exodus as Beijing tightens its hold and Covid-19 limitations like hotel quarantines remain in place. Singapore is making its new visas more flexible by allowing holders to swap occupations and making it simpler for their spouses to find employment.
Singapore has abolished the majority of mask restrictions and does not need quarantine for incoming tourists.
According to Lee Quane, the Regional Director of Asia for ECA International based in Hong Kong, "it really is targeting some of the pain points of many people who are currently in Hong Kong looking to relocate to Singapore, or even organizations which are looking to relocate talent into the region and would normally choose between Hong Kong and Singapore."
The salary criterion is really stringent. It should come as no surprise that the top candidates are bankers and those working in the finance sector.
Heads of investment banking, as well as those in charge of private banking and financial institutions, are thought to meet the minimum requirements, according to salary data compiled in Singapore by recruitment firm Michael Page International for a 2022 report, with an average annual income of S$415,000-S$425,000.
According to Michael Page's study, partners at foreign law firms make an average of S$480,000 per year in Singapore. Senior executives at chemical and engineering companies can make up to S$500,000 annually.
However, large salaries aren't always necessary. If they meet other requirements, experienced technology experts with in-demand abilities in Singapore may be eligible for a remuneration of $10,500 per month.
In addition, anyone without the required salary might still qualify if they have "exceptional achievements in the arts and entertainment, sports, science and technology, and research and academics."
In his national day speech this month, Prime Minister Lee stated that the pursuit of elite talent will benefit Singaporeans as a whole by enhancing the nation's skill base and providing residents and businesses with the opportunity to collaborate with top global talent. Only 5% of so-called foreign job pass holders, who totaled 161,700 last year, according to government estimations, make the required pay.
“These changes underscore Singapore’s commitment to remain open to the world,” the government said in a document outlining details of the visa plan, which people can apply for starting Jan. 1. “By building a deep local talent pool, and welcoming talent from around the world, we can be a vibrant global city, and create a society of opportunities for Singaporeans now, and in the years to come.”
To address the skills shortage, Singapore has also introduced long-term work visas. The adjustments also demonstrate the fine line Lee must walk between making Singapore as appealing and competitive as possible and allaying the worries that many Singaporeans had during the pandemic that foreign workers were being hired at the expense of local candidates.
Political controversy has traditionally surrounded pay-related issues in Singapore, where the typical monthly salary was S$4,680 in 2016. Government ministers have already been forced to defend their wages and take pay cuts in the face of public criticism. Their beginning monthly salary of S$46,750 makes them among the highest paid people in the world.
Lee claimed that if Singapore doesn't do more to entice international talent, it runs the risk of being outcompeted, without naming Hong Kong.
In his speech on August 21, Lee remarked that there is never enough elite talent. Talent is the deciding factor in today's world when it comes to the development of a country.