By following a few guidelines, hiring managers can increase the chances of getting employment pass applications approved for the software engineer candidates they want to hire from overseas.
Although how MOM (Ministry of Manpower Singapore) grant EPs is largely an opaque process, there are a few basic criteria governing EP approvals that employers should observe. Most tech companies face problems with EP applications because of the lack of understanding of these basic criteria.
The scarcity of local software engineers
In Singapore, companies often need to fill their tech roles by hiring from overseas, due to a shortage of local engineering talents. The locals tend to shun engineering jobs, perceiving them as not so bright in terms of career or salary prospects.
Traditionally the locals view engineering roles as subservient to management and business roles. They regard the latter as the core of the business and the former merely a supporting role.
Local engineering graduates usually pursue their careers overseas in places like Silicon Valley, where companies pay software engineers 2~3x higher than in Singapore. Those who choose to remain in Singapore often apply to bigger corporations, or branded tech startups for better career prospects.
If you are an early stage startup, or an SME, it is normal to see a very low application rate from locals for your tech job openings. It was as low as ~1% in some local companies I have worked for.
To these companies, there is simply no other options besides hiring foreigners to fill the roles.
Employment pass rejection
It is very frustrated to see your employment pass applications rejected, especially after waiting for a few weeks of application processing time. An appeal will take another 3 weeks to process. Startups can experience delay in their projects as a result of this hiccup.
MOM has never been forthcoming about why they rejected a certain application. In most cases, it is like playing a guessing game with them.
According to MOM, employment applications are not subject to any quota. However, in reality the approval process has a lot of restrictions as though there is a hidden quota at work.
Based on my personal experience in tech recruiting and others’, I have created a list of guidelines that you can follow to give you the best chances of getting your EPs approved.
Employment pass application best practice guidelines
I divide the guidelines into 3 parts:
- The political environment,
- The company’s status,
- The application.
1. The political environment
This is something you have very little control over. What you could do is to time your major recruitment exercise wisely, avoiding certain events.
- Singapore typically tighten their immigrant inflow near an election or by-election.
- Same, when the public sentiment is high on controlling immigrant inflow.
- The reverse is true, when the job market is improving overall, across many different sectors.
- or when the government is pushing an initiative to create jobs, e.g. Smart Nation.
2. The company’s status
- The more tax the company have paid, the better its chances.
- The more jobs the company have created, the better its chances.
In general, MOM give preference to companies who contribute most to Singapore’s economy.
- The higher the percentage of local employees in your company, the better your chances.
- Your company has not been complained of any discriminatory employment practices.
MOM maintain a watch list of companies that they have found to have discriminated against locals when conducting recruitment exercise. To avoid being put on the watch list, make an effort to improve the locals to foreigners ratio in your company, as well as in your candidate pipeline.
- You have used the government’s Jobs Bank to advertise your job posts, as required by MOM’s Fair Consideration Framework.
This framework obliges firms to advertise the job position for locals during 2 weeks before hiring a foreigner. A foreigner can be hired only after there was no fit found among local talents. Violating this rule may lead to rejection.
—Fair Consideration Framework
3. The application
- If the application is a renewal, it has a higher chance of approval. So make it a goal to retain your tech employees.
- Likewise if the candidate has held an EP before, especially for more than 3 years, MOM regard him/her to have a talent that is less replaceable. MOM give such candidates a higher preference.
- MOM prefer graduates with a bond from local universities (almost 100% chance of approval).
- Generally speaking, the higher the salary of the offer, the higher the chance of approval.
As a rule of thumb, the salary figure should be at least $1000 higher than the lowest figure that passes the SAT test. A junior or entry-level position has a lower salary requirement.
- The candidate should not have any past record of flouting Singapore immigration rules. E.g. remained in Singapore after his/her immigration pass expired.
- MOM apparently prefer candidates with some country origins than others.
A suspected ordering is Malaysia, China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.
I find that this practice, as a matter of fact, is a type of discrimination, which goes against the spirit of meritocracy that Singaporeans try to uphold. So I have never observed this guideline myself in all recruitment exercises I conducted.
Ultimately the system was created to give the locals a fair chance to compete in the labour market. If a firm does not deliberately discriminate against the locals, it should not have problems hiring foreigners to fill key tech positions.
I have received helpful advice from Corina, a seasoned tech recruiter from Zendesk and Evelyn, a freelance HR personnel in order to complete the list.
If you know something that is not on the list, feel free to contribute by leaving a comment.