SINGAPORE - Moves to raise the salary threshold for foreign professionals in the financial services sector in order for them to qualify to work here have been backed by the regulator.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) added that it worked closely with the Manpower Ministry to determine the new minimum qualifying salaries, which are higher than those in other sectors.
Minimum qualifying salaries for foreign professionals have been raised across the board in all sectors, but the ministry said on Thursday (Aug 27) that there will be an even higher salary requirement for financial services employees.
The salary requirement for Employment Pass (EP) applicants will be raised from $3,900 to $4,500 from Sept 1.
Qualifying salaries for older and more experienced EP candidates in their 40s will be raised correspondingly and will remain around double those for the youngest applicants.
These salaries for professionals in the finance sector will be further raised to $5,000 for new applicants from Dec 1 as will those for older, more experienced candidates. Applicants renewing passes will have to meet the new salary criteria from May 1, 2021.
The MAS said the salary increases will provide further support for hiring Singaporeans.
It added that the sector has continued to create jobs despite the pandemic, albeit with a smaller net increase of about 1,500 positions in the first half of the year, with about 80 per cent going to citizens.
"While job creation will be slower in the second half of the year and could remain muted next year, the financial sector is well positioned to be an important source of job opportunities for Singaporeans in the years ahead," the MAS said on Thursday.
It added that the salary increases will continue to allow financial institutions to complement their local workforce by tapping a global talent pool for the specialised skills sets .
These include capabilities in areas such as cyber security and machine learning as well as expertise in new growth segments like green finance, pandemic-risk insurance and family offices.
Ms Jacqueline Loh, MAS deputy managing director (markets and development), said: "A high-quality workforce with a strong Singaporean core complemented by EP holders with specialised skills will best enable our financial services sector to compete internationally, and seize new growth opportunities as the Asian and global economies recover."
This is the first time the Government has set higher qualifying salaries for a specific sector.
It comes amid debate on hiring practices in the financial field. The perennial hot-button topic of foreign talent has been in the spotlight again amid the pandemic and economic downturn.
There have been calls in ST Forum letters for the Government to grant fewer EPs, while others urged local workers to view foreigners as collaborators and not competitors.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo told a virtual briefing on Thursday that the decision was made to recognise the "different salary norms in financial services".
She said that the hiring capacity in financial services continues to remain strong and is a reflection of the interest and availability of local workers to take up jobs in the sector. "Of course, in some cases, they will need training support before they are able to be detected in those roles."
Mrs Teo added that the ministry is raising the bar higher for the financial services sector so that it can complement MAS efforts to encourage financial institutions to strengthen their local talent pipeline.
Financial institutions said they expect the higher qualifying salaries to have minimal impact on their operations.
A DBS Bank spokesman said the bank supports the Government's efforts to develop a strong pipeline of local talent in the finance sector. "We remain committed to hiring and developing a Singaporean core in our workforce," he said.
OCBC Bank's head of group human resources Jason Ho said: "We look at an applicant's skills, experience and values, rather than their age, gender, nationality or race."
He added that the bank has various training and development, and leadership development programmes to re-skill and upskill its staff, and groom future leaders.
Great Eastern managing director of group human capital James Lee said the insurer is actively creating corporate job opportunities through the SGUnited Traineeships Programme. He added that all its financial advisory staff are local.
Citizens and permanent residents make up about 90 per cent of all three companies' workforce in Singapore.