Many companies on a Manpower Ministry watchlist for their errant ways in hiring foreigners are likely to be from three industries: information technology (IT), finance  and international trading, observers said.

This is because many companies in the industries tend to be foreign-owned, do more business with foreigners or require very niche talent.

Their remarks yesterday came a day after Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say updated Parliament on a watchlist with 500 companies.

The ministry keeps a close eye on such companies assessed to be hiring a high proportion of foreigners, having no plans to recruit more Singaporeans and contributing little to the economy. Their applications for Employment Passes (EP) would then be scrutinised more closely.

UOB economist Francis Tan, while acknowledging complaints about foreign firms preferring to hire their own citizens, noted that both local and foreign companies that derive more revenue from non-Singaporeans may also see a need for foreign staff.

"These could be wealth management companies, or those in wholesale trade which export goods to other countries," he added.

 
 

For instance, a firm selling goods to Russia may find it easier to hire a Russian than a Singaporean who speaks Russian, he said.

Mr Lim said on Monday that firms on the watchlist, which started two years ago, include employment agencies and placement companies. But he did not disclose the industries common among the 500.

A year ago, the list was half as long and he had named then some of the industries to which the companies belong. They are: information and communications technology, professional services, and financial and insurance activities.

Recruitment firms ManpowerGroup Singapore and Robert Walters Singapore said clients do not ask them to give foreigners priority, but often, it is challenging to find suitably-skilled Singaporeans for such jobs as robotics, data architects and application developers.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun also said that employers in newer industries, such as IT and fintech, that are trying to capitalise on opportunities amid a talent crunch, "pull in talent from wherever they can".

Several tech startups, for instance, told The Straits Times they still struggle to find local talent in growth areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and software design.

Mr Max Xu, co-founder of AI start-up KeyReply, said close to half of the 10 staff members in his company are EP-holders, and candidates with the right skills who respond to its job ads are often foreigners.

He hopes that schemes like the ministry's Capability Transfer Programme, which supports companies that tap overseas experts to transfer skills and knowledge to local employees, can help his company to plug the gap.

"We are mindful about the need to comply with the the ministry's requirements, but local talent in this industry is very limited, as it is an emerging field."