In Singapore, the term immigrant workers is separated into foreign workers and foreign talents. Foreign workers refers to semi-skilled or unskilled workers who mainly work in the manufacturing, construction, and domestic services sectors. The majority of them come from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Thailand, as part of bilateral agreements between Singapore and these countries (Yeoh 2007). Foreign talents refers to foreigners with professional qualifications or acceptable degrees working at the higher end of Singapore’s economy. The Singaporean government has carefully constructed a system under which different types of employment passes are issued to immigrant workers according to their qualifications and monthly salaries. The “P, Q, R” employment-pass system was put into practice since September 1998; a new “S” type employment pass was later introduced in July 2004. The government has also set different policies on recruiting foreign talents and foreign workers.
Various policies and incentives are used to attract foreign talents. The Singapore Talent Recruitment (STAR) Committee was formed in November 1998 with the aim of attracting foreign talents to Singapore. Other similar programmes include Manpower 21, launched in 1999, and the International Manpower Program of the Economic Development Board. The government has developed the Scheme for Housing of Foreign Talents with the aim of providing affordable yet comfortable accommodations for foreign talents, in order to attract them to work and stay in Singapore (Low 2002).
On the other hand, stringent policies and regulations have been set on employing foreign workers. In 1981, the government even announced its intention to phase out all unskilled foreign workers by the end of 1991, except domestic maids and those employed in construction and shipyards.
In Singapore, the work permit process is managed by the Ministry of Manpower. There are several kinds of work permit, and the type awarded generally depends on the salary range of the job. The “R Pass,” or “Work Permit,” is for foreigners who make less than $1,800/month. To employ a work permit holder, the employers are subjected to work permit conditions and the employment of foreign manpower act.
In ensuring an efficient process, the Ministry of Manpower has introduced an internet platform for work permit transactions. With the internet portal, the Ministry is able to process the work permit applications within one working day.
The “S Pass” is for foreigners who make more than $1,800/month. To be eligible, the applicant must achieve a minimum score on a points-based application. It takes into account salary, skills (including education), work experience, and the type of job being applied for.
The Q Pass is for foreigners making $2,500 or more per month, with recognized qualifications or work experience. The P2 Pass is for foreigners making $3,500 to $7,000 per month and possesses recognized qualification, and foreigners making more than $7,000 per month are eligible for the P1 Pass.