Firms that drive S’pore’s growth can apply for higher quota of S Pass or work permits under new scheme

Eligible firms can apply for the new Manpower for Strategic Economic Priorities scheme via MOM's website. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Firms that move the needle in advancing Singapore’s key economic priorities will temporarily be allowed to hire a few more foreign workers than permitted by the prevailing quotas for their industry.

This is to ensure that their efforts to keep Singapore competitive are not derailed by manpower shortages.

The firms can apply to hire S Pass and work permit holders beyond industry quotas, under a new scheme that kicked in on Tuesday.

If approved, these firms’ quotas for foreign workers on either pass will be expanded by up to 5 per cent of their existing base workforce, capped at 50 additional workers, for two years at a time – which is renewable – under the Manpower for Strategic Economic Priorities (M-SEP) scheme.

Eligible firms can apply for M-SEP via the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website from 4pm on Tuesday.

“With the reduction in the quotas... that would come in next year, we wanted to provide enterprises that are very innovative, have made significant investments, and very firm and very aggressive internationalisation plans to ensure that they also have the complementary foreign manpower to help them,” said Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng at an industry visit on Tuesday.

To meet the first of two M-SEP qualifying conditions, a firm must either be already part of at least one economic scheme, or been deemed to meet certain economic criteria, by any of five agencies.

The five agencies are: Economic Development Board (EDB); Enterprise Singapore, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), and Singapore Tourism Board.

As an additional condition, a firm that wishes to tap M-SEP must commit to hire, or send for training, within two years the same number of locals as the additional quota it seeks.

Local workers sent for training must be enrolled in one of 10 recognised training programmes from EDB, SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore or MPA.

These training programmes will require companies to show that they put sufficient effort into directly training the individual, through structured on-the-job training and dedicated mentors, for example. The efforts should widen the employee’s job scope or lead to greater responsibilities and higher wages.

An industry leader that fills critical skill gaps and benefits its sector also meets the second condition.

These firms must already be recognised for having excellent workplace learning practices in place, with either gold or platinum certification from the National Centre of Excellence for Workplace Learning, or SkillsFuture Queen Bee status.

There are currently 16 SkillsFuture Queen Bees and seven platinum- or gold-certified firms.

Firms seeking to renew their M-SEP quota will have to show they met their commitments and maintained their local workforce share.

Those that fail to do so will be ineligible to apply for renewal for two years.

Firms will also need to commit to a fresh round of hiring or training of locals for each renewal, rather than clinching a renewal just merely from meeting their previous commitments.

Firms that make insincere commitments will also have their future participation in government-led programmes called into question.

“For egregious firms that are insincere in fulfilling their commitments to hire or train locals, (the) agencies will additionally take into account this poor track record when assessing these firms’ future participation in government-led programmes,” said MOM and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

Prevailing restrictions on source countries will still apply for those hired under the M-SEP quota.

Only about 1,000 firms in Singapore meet the first condition, amounting to less than 1 per cent of all registered business entities in Singapore, the ministries said.

Not all eligible firms require additional S Pass and work permit quotas, and even those in need might not be able to access the maximum additional quota M-SEP avails, the ministries added.

The ministries said that M-SEP complements the changes that MOM is making to Singapore’s work pass framework, by supporting the growth of businesses that contribute to Singapore’s strategic economic priorities.

These include a points-based system to evaluate whether to issue an employment pass to an applicant and a new Overseas Networks and Expertise Pass for top foreign talent come 2023.

Dr Tan was visiting transport conglomerate Goldbell Group’s Benoi Road compound for his industry visit.

He said M-SEP is a very focused scheme aimed at “needle-moving enterprises” that are very innovative, make significant investments and hold international ambitions.

Goldbell Group, which owns electric car-sharing firm BlueSG and other firms, could potentially qualify for M-SEP as a participant in Enterprise Singapore’s Scale-up SG programme for local companies with high growth potential. 

Chief executive Arthur Chua said the firm is keen to consider the scheme to augment the local vehicle technicians that make up over half of BlueSG’s workforce. “So the M-SEP scheme – it’s a very nice transition between where we are now and where we want to be in future,” he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.