MOM to carefully vet applicants for new One Pass, put in place safeguards against abuse: Tan See Leng

MOM already conducts back-end checks to sieve out potential cases of false salary declarations, said Dr Tan See Leng. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Two levels of safeguards will be put in place to ensure recipients of the new Overseas Networks and Expertise (One) Pass deserve it, even as Singapore competes more fiercely to attract the best international talent to its shores.

In a ministerial statement to Parliament on Monday, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said his ministry will carefully vet all applications and engage holders of the new pass during their time in Singapore.

This comes after Dr Tan first unveiled enhancements to the work pass framework on Aug 29.

Sixteen MPs had filed questions on the new pass, with Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC), Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang), Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) and Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) asking specifically about plans to prevent abuse or fraudulent applications for the new pass.

The One Pass targets top foreign professionals drawing a fixed monthly salary of $30,000 or more from a single employer, or those with outstanding achievements in arts and culture, sports, science and technology, as well as academia and research.

This pass is meant for talent comparable to the top 5 per cent of the Republic's Employment Pass (EP) holders, estimated to be around 8,000.

The One Pass allows spouses of pass holders to work in Singapore on a Letter of Consent without requiring a work pass - a move to keep up with competitors such as the United Kingdom and Hong Kong that offer work privileges for spouses.

In the region, Malaysia and Thailand also recently launched talent visas, just within the last month, noted Dr Tan.

“When people make major relocation decisions, it is usually a family decision. Without certainty for the spouse, these talent may choose to go elsewhere,” he added.

Elaborating on the safeguards, Dr Tan said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) already conducts back-end checks to sieve out potential cases of false salary declarations. These checks will be extended to all One Pass applications.

"This includes scrutinising applications from companies with a limited track record, and asking for more documents to verify that the salary declared will in fact be paid," he said.

MOM will also scrutinise the personal income tax filings of existing EP holders who wish to convert to the One Pass, with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. This is to ensure the filings are consistent with the salaries they declare.

"For overseas candidates, we will further assess their company's market capitalisation and revenue based on verifiable sources," Dr Tan said.

Overseas applicants will need to demonstrate that they have been working for a firm with a market capitalisation of at least US$500 million (S$700 million) or annual revenue of at least US$200 million for at least a year, or will be working for such a firm in Singapore.

Pass holders will also need to update MOM on their professional activities and annual income annually, the ministry told The Straits Times last week.

Dr Tan said such details will factor into MOM's assessment on whether their passes are eligible for renewal.

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Responding to a question from Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa, Dr Tan said that although MOM does not impose a time limit requiring One Pass applicants to remain employed, it is not meant to be abused as a visit or travel document.

"MOM reserves the right to cancel the pass if there are extended periods of economic inactivity with no good reasons," he added.

"Having said that, we are bringing in these talents and giving them flexibilities because we want to encourage them to take risks, explore new frontiers and make a big impact to benefit Singapore.

"It is important to allow for some ramp-up period for that to happen, and not be too quick to jump to the conclusion that they are not contributing."

Addressing questions filed by Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (West Coast GRC) on how the pass would benefit Singaporeans and its expected impact on local employment, Dr Tan said pass holders can contribute in different ways.

For example, pass holders who are employees can bring a new business unit to Singapore, while the entrepreneurs among them can set up shop here. Some can also provide advice to local enterprises and professionals.

Not all will succeed on their first try, though.

"What matters is the sum of the parts, and how well the whole portfolio performs. We are building a rich network of markets, people and ideas, that over time, shows up in the dynamism of our economy."

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In response to a question filed by Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Don Wee, Dr Tan added that local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will benefit from the influx of top talent.

Some SMEs, he said, could benefit from directly hiring One Pass holders, while others could tap the pass holder's expertise through consulting services, or inviting them to join their boards.

SMEs could also be partners, contractors, suppliers or service providers to this top talent, such as in up-and-coming sectors such as green economy or fintech.

In summary, the better Singapore is at attracting and retaining the best talent, local and global, the higher the chances of securing the Republic's economic future and good jobs for all Singaporeans, Dr Tan said.

Referencing Chinese epic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in his Mandarin speech, Dr Tan said the continuous efforts to court top foreign talent with the work pass enhancements resemble the repeated attempts by Chinese warlord Liu Bei to attract master strategist Zhuge Liang.

Zhuge Liang’s novel strategies helped Liu Bei gain a competitive edge against rival warlords such as Cao Cao during a turbulent era in ancient Chinese history.

If Singapore does not keep up its competitiveness compared with other jurisdictions through schemes such as the One Pass, it may not be able to retain even its own home-grown talent, said Dr Tan.

He added: "Singapore cannot be playing a defensive game when it comes to talent."

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