Coronavirus: Fund to help migrant workers, address longer-term needs

A new fund has been set up to help foreign workers who could lose their jobs if their employers fold due to the coronavirus outbreak. It will also address longer-term issues they could face.

The fund, which has raised $1 million from organisations and philanthropists, was established by Leap201, a philanthropic organisation that was set up after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Mr Michael Lien, founder of Leap201, said that his organisation decided to set up the fund to address other concerns migrant workers might have after their immediate food and health needs have been met.

One issue he hopes the fund can help with is the matching of foreign workers who lose their jobs to new positions.

Speaking in an interview on Singapore Press Holdings radio station Money FM 89.3 yesterday, he said it would not make sense for Singapore to repatriate retrenched migrant workers back to their home countries after the Covid-19 outbreak, only to bring a different batch of foreign workers to Singapore 18 months later.

He noted that migrant workers pay large sums of money, sometimes up to $12,000, in recruitment, training and agent fees before they start work here. Losing their jobs often means going back to their countries heavily in debt.

"Let's emerge from this crisis having a better buffer for migrant workers and (small and medium-sized companies)," he said.

"Whether we look at this from a humanitarian angle or from a practical angle, everyone wins if we do this right."

For now, Leap201 has not firmed up specific projects that the contributions from the fund will go towards, as grant disbursement is pending proposals from migrant worker organisations so the money can be efficiently used.


Other gaps in migrant worker support that Leap201 has identified are mental health support and legal aid.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who has been using his experience as former Minister for Manpower to advise Mr Lien, said in the same interview that, very often, donating money is the most useful way for people to help.

He said: "If you are in doubt, you want to help, donate money because that's the most flexible (for organisations to put to good use)."

Mr Tan noted that while some people may make donations in kind, these donations can stretch non-governmental organisations on the manpower and logistics front.

Those who wish to contribute to the fund can write to Leap201's executive director Nozomi Witherspoon to find out more, at

There is a minimum contribution of $250,000 for corporate donors and $100,000 for individual donors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2020, with the headline 'Fund to help migrant workers, address longer-term needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe