On 12 Sep 2022, Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng gave a Ministerial Statement explaining the need for ONE pass. I had filed a parliamentary question to ask why the spouses of ONE pass holders need only a letter of consent (LOC) to work in Singapore, without having to meet the criteria we have put in place for E Pass, S Pass and work permits.
This is a feature of the ONE pass that particularly concerned me. I have no problems with locals earning above $30k per month to be open to global competition. This is a group who are more than able to take care of themselves and in fact should be taking care of others as well. So the ONE pass generally does not cause me much concern, and I can see the merits of attracting top talent to Singapore.
But allowing the spouses of ONE pass holders to work in Singapore on a LOC means that they effectively by-pass all the control and measures we have put in place for the protection of local jobs, eg minimum salary requirements, quotas, foreign worker levies, COMPASS etc. According to the Minister, there are about 8000 EP holders currently earning above $30k per month, so that’s potentially 8000 spouses. And if ONE pass should prove more popular than E Pass, perhaps more.
These 8000 spouses of those earning above $30k per month not only get a competitive advantage in the job market against other foreigners, but they also compete directly with locals for jobs across all salary levels since they bypass the aforementioned controls. This strikes me as inequitable and would need strong justifications for it to be acceptable. Hence I filed the parliamentary question to ask for the reasons.
Minister Tan replied that it is absolutely material and absolutely needle moving. I then followed up with another question asking how MOM reached the conclusion that the LOC for spouses is material and needle-moving, for example, was it through a survey of prospective candidates for ONE pass, or perhaps advice from an international HR consultancy?
Minister TSL replied that MOM received feedback from many agencies like economic agencies and business chambers. To me, this merely passes the buck. How did these agencies reach that conclusion? I guess I will have to file further parliamentary questions to find out which agencies specifically gave this recommendation and then ask them for the reasons.
I also pointed out that the introduction of ONE pass separates the top foreign talents from the other EP holders, thus giving us the flexibility to adjust the control of E Pass without affecting our efforts to attract top foreign talents. I therefore also asked the Minister if MOM has plans to further tighten EP criteria. The Minister did not reply.