From PSLE to FST (Foreigners Screening Test)?


Being a born and bred Singaporean, the changes to the law for foreign employment came as good news to me. Sure, I came across reports saying that some bosses are complaining about not being able to find enough waitresses and service staff, but honestly, those are not really my dai ji since I’m a salaried employee.

There are also talks of introducing a point-based system to screen future foreign workers, which could be based on skills, qualifications, nationality, etc.

This could be a good move.

A colleague of mine was recently forced to leave the country because his renewal application for an EP was rejected, and my boss was frustrated because there wasn’t enough transparency to find out why exactly he was denied the renewal.

That’s why I feel that implementing a point system for foreigners looking to work here would be a great thing; not only would the set of clear and standard guidelines allow people to know why their application for an employment pass was accepted or rejected, it would also allow the selection process to keep only the most needed or the most talented people (as opposed to anyhow opening our doors to foreigners).

How this will be rolled out could be very tricky though…

First of all, attracting “the best talent” naturally implies that the system will benefit those that went to Harvard and Cambridge. I know I speak for others like me who can’t help but see them as threats to my rice bowl.

In countries like Canada and the US, for instance, the points system created a bias towards educated and book-smart foreigners, which resulted in in some industries desperate for skilled blue-collar workers or successful immigrants not being able to find a job that matches their skill sets.

Do we want to see that happening in Singapore? Obviously no la!

The point system is also skewed towards those who know how to “play the game” – people who have the skills and qualifications but lacking the soft aspect like cultural fit and adaptability.

Other possible situations of abuse may also result from the criteria that are imposed. For example, previously in Australia, one could rely on sponsorships based on personal relationships to get their free ticket into the country. The old point system was flawed in that it led to general skilled applications gaining more points than a highly skilled individual who did not have sponsorship.

Ultimately, I think we have to put in place a system that allows:

  • Transparency and fairness in distinguishing applicants
  • Recognition of compatible talent and skills as needed by the economy
  • Attraction of applicants who meet both the “soft” and “hard” criteria

The best situation in the long-term is for these people to call Singapore home and eventually become citizens, so it’s not just about getting the “smart” ones, but about getting the ones most likely to integrate our local culture.

After all, we don’t want this to become like PSLE, O-Levels, or A-Levels exams, where a well-meaning system actually churns out only book-smart people who just want to score well but who can’t really do anything else…

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