Debrief: New Tech.Pass work pass scheme a response to stiff competition for global tech talent

Applications for the tech pass will start in Jan 2021, with 500 places available at launch. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

What's the story

In a bid to raise its attractiveness to top-tier foreign tech talent, Singapore is launching a new work pass next year called Tech.Pass, which will be valid for two years and have the option to be renewed once for another two years.

Pass holders can start and operate a business, serve on the board of directors of a Singapore-based company or be a shareholder or investor in companies here. They can also take up lecturing roles in institutes of higher learning, serve as a mentor or adviser to companies here, and conduct corporate training.

Applications for it will start in January, and for a start, 500 places will be available when it is launched. Candidates for Tech.Pass must meet various criteria to show that they are high-level professionals in the tech industry. Renewal has stringent requirements too.

The Economic Development Board will administer Tech.Pass, with the support of the Ministry of Manpower. Tech.Pass builds on the Tech@SG programme, which was introduced last year and which spells out more flexible requirements for foreign professionals to apply for an Employment Pass (EP) that applies to those with a fixed monthly salary of at least $4,500.

Why it matters

A global race for top tech talent is on, and like Singapore, many other countries have been trying to make their pitch for these individuals whose capital, networks and know-how will be valuable in helping them grow their tech industries and create jobs.

With Tech.Pass, Singapore now ranks among countries like France, Malaysia, Thailand and Britain, which have all introduced special visas meant to woo international tech talent.

Competition is stiff - Britain, for instance, saw a record number of applicants last month for its Tech Nation visa, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

And given the many options that tech professionals have, firms in the region are finding it difficult to get tech experts to lead their teams and projects. In a study released last year, recruitment consultancy Robert Walters found that in South-east Asia, close to 70 per cent of hiring managers took at least three months to fill an open tech position.

Local firms are getting worried too - research by specialised recruiter Robert Half last year found that more than 90 per cent of Singaporean IT leaders were concerned Singapore does not have the IT talent readily available to build a Smart Nation-ready workforce.

But with Tech.Pass, there is an attempt to make Singapore even more appealing to these people. While the EP requires the sponsorship of an employer, Tech.Pass will be tied to the individual. This gives flexibility to the professionals to decide what they want to do.

What lies ahead

Singapore's Internet economy - or business conducted online - is on track to reach US$22 billion (S$29.7 billion) by 2025, which makes it poised to be a large engine of growth for the country.

But other countries in the region also have their eyes on the potential for growth that the tech sector has. Despite the disruptions from Covid-19, South-east Asia's Internet economy is expected to hit over US$300 billion by 2025.

In order to fully realise the potential of tech, the Republic will need more movers and shakers to grow the industry here and create opportunities for its local workers. It has its work cut out for itself to meet the high demand from companies here for skill manpower.

There is now a small window to act before these talents get scooped up by other locations, and Singapore's efforts now will decide if it gets to entrench itself as a tech hub.

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