Singapore's overall attractiveness as a regional investment hub is often emphasised by policymakers, and it is this which the country now looks to, to counter any potential erosion of competitiveness from the latest foreign manpower policy changes.

This is especially so since repeated rounds of tighter regulations may have given foreign businesses the impression that Singapore is less open than it is, business representatives and observers say.

The Manpower Ministry said on Monday that it will raise the minimum salary at which employers may hire foreign professionals on an employment pass (EP), which is not subject to any foreign worker quotas and levies. Firms will also have to advertise job vacancies for two weeks before applying for an EP, in a bid to ensure Singaporean candidates get fair consideration.

Ho Meng Kit, chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation, said: "The government has always signalled that a Singapore open to talent and foreign investments is its key development strategy and competitive advantage. We do not think this strategy has changed."

Speaking for the more than 19,000 companies SBF represents, Mr Ho said the new rules are "essentially a signalling exercise for companies to do the right thing" as he believes unfair hiring practices are not prevalent.

Though employers may face hiring delays, recruitment firm Robert Walters' managing director for South-east Asia, Mark Ellwood, said companies are unlikely to be so put off as to pull out of Singapore. "That would be an overreaction. Many countries do have different types of requirements when it comes to processing employment passes, visa and permits."

Associate professor Randolph Tan of SIM University's Centre for Applied Research thinks that Singapore's labour market is merely moving closer to a level of regulation typical of advanced economies, after a phase of very little regulation.

Others stressed that Singapore still retains its competitive edge, when what it offers - beyond labour policies - is considered.

Hence, while requesting that MNCs not be forced to advertise for posts requiring foreign employees whom the companies need to train here, the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce acknowledged that Singapore "still has its traditional advantages over other investment destinations in the region".

Singapore can, for now, boast that it came in second for a third straight year on the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014's ranking of 148 economies, thanks to strong financial market development, infrastructure and institutional frameworks.

Significantly, Singapore ranked first worldwide for goods market efficiency and labour market efficiency, said the GCR report, released this month. "While the current labour policies may seem restrictive compared to the past, they are probably still more open than others," said OCBC economist Selena Ling.

However, the GCR survey also found that "restrictive labour regulations" were the most problematic factor for doing business in Singapore.

"So, it does look like the successive rounds of manpower policy tightening have sufficiently made an impact on employers' minds," Ms Ling said.

Clear communication may be key to managing the perceptions of global businesses.

Barclays economist Joey Chew noted that Monday's announcements had given rise to international newspaper headlines such as "Singapore to give citizens priority for job openings" (in The New York Times), despite the government's assertion that the goal of these changes is fair, rather than preferential, hiring practices.

"There is no priority. MOM repeatedly says fair chance - and that is it, just a chance, maybe even an empty chance if firms don't comply with the spirit of the framework, just the letter of the law," she said. "I think the government just needs to get its 'fair' message out there to the firms very clearly."

In terms of its ability to attract talent, the GCR ranked Singapore second globally and Hong Kong fifth. But Hong Kong came in seventh for its ability to retain talent, ahead of Singapore's eighth placing.

ECA International's Asia regional director, Lee Quane, said the Republic must remember that it is competing with others to attract the best and brightest talents to its shores. "In fact, Singapore is already losing some of its best talents to some of its Asian neighbours, to fuel current and future growth (in those economies)."

But Prof Tan, a labour economist, believes that the information captured through the jobs bank may help to focus Singapore's efforts on attracting the specific talent it requires.