Scoring system for EPs right step towards transparency and balance, say industry players

From September 2023, new EP applications must meet the qualifying salary and score at least 40 points under the new Complementarity Assessment Framework. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The new scoring framework to assess Employment Pass (EP) applications will make the process more transparent and represents a positive shift in Singapore's approach to hiring foreign professionals, say businesses and trade associations.

From September 2023, new EP applications will go through a two-step process. First, candidates must meet the qualifying salary. Next, they must score at least 40 points under the new Complementarity Assessment Framework (Compass), which was outlined on Friday (March 4) by Manpower Minister Tan See Leng.

The framework not only makes more transparent the criteria for granting approvals to firms' hiring of professional talents, it also recognises the hiring needs of 150,000 micro companies here by awarding them half the passing marks by "default" to get a head start, say businesses.

Small and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 25 PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) will automatically be scored as "meeting expectations" on two of the four main attributes under Compass.

The framework's roll-out date of September next year also gives companies time to prepare as well as ride the economic rebound for now, and is good news following the downbeat announcement of higher qualifying salaries for foreign professionals made weeks earlier, they added.

The Association for Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) lauded the framework as a "reset" and a "shift" in MOM's approach.

Its president Kurt Wee said: ""I am heartened by it. I really like the exemption rate for SMEs. I particularly like the heightened level of transparency and clarity of the system."

Singapore Business Federation's chief executive Lam Yi Young also highlighted the "default score" of 20 points for companies that employ fewer than 25 PMETs.

"This is a calibrated approach that will help smaller businesses to continue tapping into the foreign manpower pool to complement our local workforce," he said.

Mr Heng Cheng King, head of operations at One-Visa noted that under the current system, employers may be doing "guesstimates, because MOM does not tell you how many more locals they want for one EP holder - 50 per cent, 30 per cent?

"Compass actually gives you a direction," he added.

The immigration consultancy handles about 30 EP applications a month and expects the number to rise by as much as 30 per cent this year with the economic recovery.
"So, thankfully they are implementing it next year, because the system always takes like, six months to a year, to ease in," said Mr Heng.

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Dr Lei Hsien-Hsien, who is chief executive of The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham), described the rationale behind the framework as "sound".

She welcomed the 18-month lead time, especially as companies' needs for more workers rise with the economic rebound.

"At the start of 2022, AmCham has seen an increase in the number of enquiries from companies looking to establish new offices in Singapore and others who have plans to scale up," she added.

British Chamber of Commerce Singapore said it will gather feedback from its members as the Government fine-tunes the framework and said the pre-assessment tool that lets firms know their passability in advance is helpful for firms.

Its executive director, Mr David Kelly, said: "We anticipate employers will be able to visualise where they need to take appropriate actions to adjust salaries against market rate, review their business models or hiring practices."

Mr Kelly said the 10 bonus points for applicants in Singapore's key strategic sectors, such as artificial intelligence and fintech, recognises the lack of these expertise locally and the "natural progression" for foreign transfer of skills.

"Technology, for example, is a high-demand, high-performing sector for the UK and we anticipate British businesses with the required skillset to benefit from this development," he said.

Mr Wee hopes the Government continues to hear out businesses on their hiring needs. "At the end of the day, two things happens when the manpower costs increase. One, the cost of living increases for everybody. Two, there is a risk of erosion of our competitiveness vis-a-vis the global marketplace," he said.

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