The government's efforts to boost the standards of foreign professionals working in Singapore have resulted in fewer employment passes (EPs) being renewed this year.
According to latest figures released by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) yesterday, about 2,600 EP holders here were unsuccessful in getting a renewal in the first six months of 2013.
Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin disclosed this in Parliament in response to questions from Nominated MP R Dhinakaran.
In his reply, Mr Tan said slightly more than half of the 2,600 EPs which were not renewed were Q1 pass holders, the lowest of the three EP tiers available.
The top industries for these affected EP holders were wholesale and retail trade, professional services and information and communications.
"This is likely due to the tightening of the EP qualifying criteria implemented in January 2012, as part of the government's effort to raise the quality profile of foreign professionals working here," Mr Tan told the House.
Figures from MOM's website show that the number of EP holders in Singapore has fallen to 172,100 in June this year from 175,400 in December 2011.
The government's changes to the EP qualifying criteria have come alongside a new framework to encourage employers to consider Singaporeans first before hiring foreigners.
In January 2012, the qualifying monthly salary for EP holders was raised to $3,000 from $2,800.
Two months ago, MOM said this would go up by a further 10 per cent to $3,300 from Jan 1 next year.
This base figure applies to young graduates from good educational institutions. Older and more experienced applicants must earn even higher salaries commensurate with their work experience in order to get an EP.
The minimum monthly salary for the other two EP tiers - P2 and P1 - remains unchanged at $4,500 and $8,000, respectively.
Mr Dhinakaran, managing director of Jay Gee Melwani Group, also wanted to know if MOM had received any complaints from multinationals - especially those from the three industries that Mr Tan had earlier cited - regarding the tight labour market in Singapore.
Mr Tan said his ministry was in constant dialogue with the various chambers of commerce in Singapore, and both foreign and local employers have expressed their concerns.
While Mr Tan said his ministry was "very mindful" of their worries about not being able to find enough skilled professionals, he stressed that the government was taking a calibrated approach on the matter.
"The overall message is consistent. We do need to tighten and we do need to move on to much more productivity-led growth as well as a more manpower-lean approach," said the minister.
He added that the competitiveness that Singapore offered to investors extended beyond having a diverse and open labour market.
"There are many pluses going our way - rule of law, transparency, flexibility, infrastructure. All these go into consideration of any company operating here," said Mr Tan.
"Obviously, having a diverse and open workforce is beneficial, and it does eventually benefit Singaporeans as well."