The Truth Behind Foreigners in Singapore

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We hear many anti-foreigner slogans that have been spewed out in the last few years, and are troubled that many take these slogans at face value.

Here are some long-drawn out slogans and the realities we face.

The big question is whether we will be too pre-occupied with the slogans to notice the bigger challenges that we have to overcome in the next 50 years.


Slogan #1: Government uses cheap foreign labour to achieve growth at all costs. Singaporeans suffer low pay as a result!

In reality: In recent years, the government has reduced the growth of foreign labour.

Wages have risen, partly as a result of the labour crunch and partly due to efforts to raise skillsets and careers of the low income.

Singaporeans at both the bottom-20th percentile and median have actually experienced healthy wage growth, even in the supposed period (2004 – 2009) when Singapore had a ‘liberal foreign workforce’ policy.

Cumulative Growth (%) of Real Monthly Income from Work (Including Employer CPF contributions) of Full-Time Employed Citizens

2004 – 2009 2009 – 2014 2004 – 2014
20th  Percentile 6.3 8.0 14.8
50th Percentile 9.4 10.8 21.4


Slogan #2: Government prefers foreign workers than Singaporeans because they are cheaper!

In reality: Foreign workers and those on S pass fill gaps in the workforce that Singaporeans cannot and do not want to fill. Some examples are:

  • Construction workers
  • Cleaners
  • Nursing home staff
  • Retail staff
  • Call centre staff
  • Deliverymen
  • Security officers
  • Grasscutters

There are levies on foreign workers and S passes that also increase their cost the companies, making it more attractive for companies to hire Singaporeans. The problem is, they cannot find suitable Singaporeans to fill the jobs!

Levies for S Passes in all sectors (excluding services):

Tier Quota % Monthly levy rate Daily levy rate
Basic/Tier 1 Up to 10% of the total workforce $315 $10.36
Tier 2 Above 10% to 20% of the total workforce $550 $18.09


Slogan #3: Companies can import Foreign Talents easily, that’s why we don’t have jobs!

In reality: Employment Passes (aka Foreign Talent or FTs) also have controls through qualitative checks via Fair Consideration Framework, although there is still room for improvement especially in culprit sectors of Banking/Finance and IT.

If the Fair Consideration Framework isn’t as effective as intended, the government may look at alternative ways including a quota or dependency ratio for Employment Passes, an idea which was raised by Labour MP Patrick Tay in 2011.



Source: MyPaper

The government has also rolled out wage subsidies for companies which hire mature Singaporean PMEs from 1 October 2015 among a host of other things with the Career Support Programme.


Being unable to find a job may also be due to:

  • skills mismatch (your 10 year old degree may be obsolete)
  • mismatched expectations of both employer (wants weekend worker) and candidate (wants office hours)
  • preference for younger and cheaper fresh grads (aka ageism)
  • lack of regional or global experience (compared to those who have worked overseas)


Slogan #4: Government wants us to work overseas so foreigners can take over our places.

In reality: SMEs and MNCs cannot survive by selling to Singapore market alone. They are also looking to grow their revenue by serving the regional and global market.

For the best shot at success, they hire people who have overseas experience and have a better sense of capitalising on opportunities and avoiding pitfalls. Hence the government’s push for Singaporeans to work overseas (duh!)


So the next time you hear a sexy slogan that riles you up, think about this quote:

“Look out for what people choose not to mention, than focusing on what they purposely say.”






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The Editor

Hello, I am the Editor of FiveStarsAndAMoon :)
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2 thoughts on “The Truth Behind Foreigners in Singapore

  1. It was not the FW that many Singaporeans are complaining mainly about, but the FTs. Where whole departments are employing FTs in IT, well paid Admin jobs, and even as managers and whatnot. And of course there are Singaporeans who are dependent on unskilled jobs such as retail work and security since not every diploma holder will be able to find a job relevant to their qualification in Singapore these days; especially those who studied mass comm on a diploma level, etc. Even if these Singaporeans are not the majority, they are still Singaporeans.

    Intelligent and targeted immigration of the people with the right skills that is in-demand (and not in direct competition with the local population) is the way to go. FTs are important yes, but they should not be competing with locals on jobs that are already in high demand. The government should make sure that FTs can only work in areas where there’s a shortage of local talent, and employers have to pay them the same rate as they pay locals + on top of levies (and FTs have to pay tax since they are taking advantage of our infrastructure and economy and they don’t have to contribute to Singapore’s defense by doing NS/re-service); as it shouldn’t be attractive to hire FTs because of lower wage and not having to go for re-service.

    The government serves its voters as a whole, not business and the rich few. The widening poor-rich divide will have real and severe social cost to Singapore if it is left unaddressed. I am not an oppie, I do NOT trust the opposition party. However I am certainly disappointed with PAP and many of their policies/attitudes, and what I personally see as a plutocratic state. For the health of Singapore as a nation in the long-term, we will need to have viable and quality oppositions, however policies and actions of the ruling party in the past have inhibited that sadly, so for now, there’s only one party that we can depend upon; while voting for opposition with the hope that they could at least put pressure on the government to actually listen to the voices of the common people, and not just the rich and themselves, and working for the interests of big-businesses – from what I see.

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