176,000 foreign PMEs in Singapore: Do local PMEs have a fair shake?

Of xenophobic sentiments, there are some feedback on my previous article: Guess! How many foreigners are there to Singaporeans?

Many expressed consent for foreigners employed here to take up jobs that Singaporeans do not want to do, i.e. construction workers and domestic helpers. What is of greater concern is the presence of foreign Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs). This group bears the brunt of ‘snatching’ jobs that are thought to be otherwise available to the locals.


Singapore’s population as of June 2014 is 5.47 million.

Out of this 5.47m people, about 1.60m are non-residents.

So what are these non-residents doing in Singapore? Here is a breakdown (Data via Population.sg):

  • 46% Work Permit holders (semi-skilled workers; many in construction industry)
  • 10% S-Pass holders (mid-level skilled workers in various industries, such as retail, manufacturing and healthcare)
  • 13% Foreign Domestic Workers
  • 5% Student Pass holders
  • 15% dependents (spouses and children of citizens, PR and work pass holders)
  • 11% Employment Pass holders (professionals, managers and senior executives)

And that’s the bulk of our works – 11% that’s it. 176,000 foreign PMEs (aka 176,000 jobs); only these 11% of foreigners are out there “competing” with our professionals. 

So, are 176,000 Singaporeans let down by the Manpower Ministry and denied of better jobs?

Local PMEs are well-educated but have encountered difficulty in finding jobs that match their qualifications and salary demands. And when they don’t get the job/salary mix they are looking for, it is perceived that businesses prefer employing expats. This is probably why news on degree mills and fake qualifications are frowned upon.

Well, the policies have been implemented and there are many measures designed to protect fairness  when it comes to hiring Singaporeans.

  • Fair Consideration Framework

The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) is implemented by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to ensure that companies do not employ foreign manpower when there are qualified locals available for hire.

  • Stricter approval of Employment Passes

Companies are urged to take the FCF seriously for a strong Singaporean core to be built. Greater scrutiny will be placed on the Employment Pass (EP) applications of firms that have large foreigner enclaves and those that do not pay heed to the FCF.

MOM currently has a watchlist of about 150 firms from industries such as IT, finance and services; more are expected to be under tighter inspection. Detailed information will have to be submitted by these employers to verify that Singaporeans were considered fairly. MOM will look at qualifications, experience and salary in its evaluation.

If qualifications of foreign employees are found to be forged, they will banned in their job applications here for life. In the last 3 years, five thousand of such cases have surfaced. The guilty will be charged a criminal offence for deceiving the government.

Questionable qualifications will be rejected regardless of pass type. MOM will look to the embassies for determination of “doubtful” certifications.

Starting from 1 October 2015, firms will be required to publish the salary range of job vacancies posted in the Jobs Bank – in line with the FCF’s advertising requirement.  Failure in doing so will result in rejection of EP applications.

This is on top of the requirement that they have to key job positions into Jobs Bank for at least 14 days BEFORE they can turn their heads at foreigners and be granted EPs. It would be preposterous to get a foreign HR director, given that a local would know another local better. But if no local is up for the job, it would a different story altogether.



Now, it’ll make even more sense to employ locals; businesses don’t have to worry for their accommodations and living allowances too.

  • Assistance to unemployed PMEs

From early 2016, PMEs who are not covered by the Employment Act (drawing salaries > $4,500/month) will be protected under the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) that allows them to resolve statutory and contractual salary-related disputes.

The Labour Movement also launched the Career Activation Programme (CAP) to support mature PMEs beyond the age of 40. The Singapore Workforce Development Agency is also looking into hiring professional headhunters to help unemployed PMEs find jobs.

The Labour Movement is also keen to create opportunities for PMEs. They work with their partner associates (current at 15) to ensure their practitioner-designed programmes will be helpful.


A friend of mine also made an observation: Creative directors here are mostly westerners. With that being the case all the while, Singaporeans cannot rise up to the positions because the culture has evolved into one where locals are not up to the job. Positions just get replenished by foreigners every time.

It is thus imperative to encourage new blood to learn the ropes from these expats… To replace them should they leave. Ultimately, we can see that Government help is present and there are jobs. Are the 176,000 people a threat to us? Nope, the blame game is pointless.

We still need these people to share their expertise with us. What would also help is for us to complement Government measures by performing well on the job and showing businesses that ‘Hey, I’m Singaporean and I can be as good as my foreign counterparts!’

… Instead of sounding self-entitled with ‘WTF? I’m Singaporean and you should still employ me even if I’m not as good!’

Don’t you think so?



  1. I think the problem is that alot of the ep holders are concentrated in a few industries as rightly pointed out by mom. Personally I had been in an industry that is staff mainly by foreign expats and there is a lack of willingness in skill transfer. Instant tree mentality if everything is left to market force, profit is everything.

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