When Filipino Edwin Macaraig tried switching jobs this year, he did not expect his application for a new Employment Pass (EP) to be rejected by Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) - twice.
It happened in July and again late last month after the 39-year-old IT executive, who had been working in a multinational technology company for 3 1/2 years, also tried to apply for permanent residency. He was turned down both times.
Unable to secure a new work pass before his old one expired, Mr Macaraig, who is married to a Filipina and has two daughters, returned to Manila to find work.
"I would surely have wanted to continue working in Singapore had I been given a chance by MOM, primarily because of the money. My last offered package was five times what I make here in the Philippines," he told The Straits Times in an e-mail interview.
Last Monday, MOM, which approves or denies work passes, announced that it would soon require employers to show that they have tried to employ Singaporeans before hiring foreigners, which could make it even tougher for hopefuls like Mr Macaraig. The ultimate aim is to give Singaporeans a fair shot at professional, managerial and executive (PME) jobs.
From next August, all companies with more than 25 employees must advertise all PME posts that pay less than $12,000 a month at a government-run jobs bank for at least 14 days before they can apply for an EP for a foreigner. And from next January, the starting pay of EP holders will rise from $3,000 to $3,300 to keep it in line with rising salaries.
Mr Patrick Tay, director of labour movement National Trades Union Congress' PME Unit, said in a Straits Times column earlier this month that based on anecdotal evidence, the banking and finance as well as IT and communications sectors require special attention because "perceptions are greatest that locals are not given their full due".
But analysts do not expect too big an impact, as tightening measures have been ongoing for several months, and fewer EPs have been issued.
In 2011, there were 175,400 EP holders here. As of June this year, there were 172,100.
While that rule has been cheered by unions and employer groups in Singapore, it has dampened the mood of a dozen or so Chinese, Filipino and Indian job seekers and recruitment firms whom The Straits Times spoke to.
"I'm not feeling very secure about my future in Singapore. Next year, there may be a different policy and I don't know what will happen next," said a Filipino Web developer, whose EP was recently downgraded from the higher-tier P2 status to the lowest-tier of Q1. He declined to be named.
Even so, foreigners interviewed by The Straits Times said Singapore jobs are still better-paying and have brighter prospects than jobs back home.
Mr Zubin Shroff, a director of talent acquisition at IT software firm Citrix Systems in Singapore, believes those who can plug the skills gap will still be in demand.
For instance, Singapore lacks IT experts and managers in its banking and financial sectors, and employers have been hiring directly from India in these areas, said Mr Gurdeep Hora, managing director of recruitment firm Synergy HRD Consultants in Delhi.
But recruiters like Mr Chun Liew, senior account manager of Direct HR recruitment agency in Shanghai, said the new rule will make it harder for Singapore-based companies to secure workers from abroad, and lower the likelihood of professionals seeking out and landing jobs in Singapore.
"There's a higher chance applications could be rejected, since Singapore is keen to protect Singaporeans' employment chances," he said.
Despite the new rules, Filipino software consultant Kathrina Morfe, 30, hopes to remain in Sing-apore after working here for five years. "I like Singapore. It's safe, stable, you are paid fairly at work, and it's close to my home in the Philippines," she said. "That's the best part."
With additional reporting by Nirmala Ganapathy and Kor Kian Beng