Back in early 2017, India had expressed concern that curbs on the movement of Indian professionals to Singapore violate the terms of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) signed by the two countries in 2005.
In December 2017 when then Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was in New Delhi in December 2017 to speak at the Delhi Economics Conclave held by the Indian Finance Ministry, he was asked about these restrictions.
Mr Tharman said: It would be mindless to have an open border without any policy framework to govern and control the flow of people into your job market. It will not just be wrong politics but wrong economics.
Mr Tharman was expressing the Singapore Government’s position.
There was no free flow of Indian talents from India. On the contrary, there was a tightening of flow with greater restrictions.
Every free trade agreement Singapore has, including the CECA, is subject to local regulatory framework. They do not bypass the local regulatory framework on the employment of foreign nationals.
Times of India (TOI) reported in 2017 that Indian information technology professionals were finding it tough to find work in Singapore. Instead, Indian companies were advised to hire more locals.
India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies President R Chandrashekhar told TOI that the visa problem had been lingering for a while. The movement of Indian software professionals to Singapore has been “reduced to an insignificant trickle” since early 2016. He said it was becoming tough for Indian software firms to operate in the Republic.
Work-permit processes have tightened a lot since Singapore adopted the Fair Consideration Framework, a slew of rules in place since October 2015 to make sure employers really are considering Singaporeans for vacancies.
“All Indian companies have received communication on fair consideration, which basically means hiring local people,” R. Chandrashekhar told Times Of India
Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower also requires that companies provide it with information on the number of applications submitted by Singaporeans, whether Singaporeans were interviewed for the vacancy, and the firm’s current share of Singaporeans in professional, managerial, and executive positions.
There is no free flow of foreign nationals to Singapore. All foreign nationals have to meet the work pass qualifying criteria before they can work in Singapore and the Fair Consideration Framework applies to ALL firms.
Stoking the fears of Singaporeans in uncertain times
In November last year (2019), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the government took a very serious view of attempts to ‘rattle Singaporeans and divide our society’ by spreading online falsehoods about Singapore’s free trade agreements, in particular the CECA.
Mr Chan said that Ceca does not give Indian nationals privileged or unconditional access to Singapore, and that “none of our FTAs do”.
“Indian professionals, like any other professionals from other countries, have to meet MOM’s (Ministry of Manpower’s) existing qualifying criteria to work in Singapore,” he said, adding that anyone applying for Singapore citizenship must likewise satisfy existing criteria.
There will always be some employers and employees that try to “circumvent our system”, Mr Chan said, but “they are the minority”.
Such companies are on MOM’s watchlist and will have their work pass privileges curbed or suspended altogether.
Being on the watchlist means their employment pass applications will be closely scrutinised.
Singapore’s network of FTAs including the CECA has attracted more global multinational corporations to Singapore creating more opportunities for businesses and jobs for Singaporeans.
Since 2005 when the CECA was signed, the number of Singaporeans in PMET jobs has grown from 825,000 to 1.25 million in 2019. This represents more than half of all Singaporean jobs.
Bilateral trade with India has grown from $16.7 billion to $26.4 billion with Singapore being now, one of India’s largest foreign investors. More investment means more jobs for Singaporeans.
Weathering uncertain times together
Singapore is small and we cannot compete on ‘price and size’. Instead, Singapore must expand its markets and build up capabilities to compete on innovation, quality and connectivity.
Mr Chan said Singaporeans are understandably concerned about competition and job prospects amidst the uncertain times.
“But the way to help Singaporeans is not to mislead them and create fear and anger.”
Mr Chan promised that the government will equip Singapore students and workers with the right skills.
“Times are uncertain, it is important for us to stay cohesive. Help one another, but never allow others to stoke the fears and racial biases of our people,” he said.
“Never to do this for selfish, personal or political reasons. And we, Singaporeans, are definitely better than this.”