, Singapore

ONE Pass visa faces delicate balance between talent attraction and salary pressures

The $30,000 salary threshold of the visa presents difficulties for businesses in recruiting top talent.

On the first day of January 2023, Singapore made available the overseas network and enterprises (ONE) pass, a new visa which offers five-year validity. Amongst the qualifications required for the visa is a $30,000 monthly salary. Although the visa is designed to help Singapore attract top global talent, some businesses may face challenges in meeting the salary threshold. 

Whilst businesses are willing to pay competitive salaries to attract top talent, they are unlikely to “overpay” their employees to meet the salary threshold for the ONE Pass for over five years, according to Andrew McNeilis, managing director of recruitment services firm, Phaidon International in Asia and the Pacific. He added that firms in other markets may choose to retain top talent through long-term incentives and bonuses. 

ONE Pass is often compared to Singapore’s employment pass (EP). Whilst the EP salary cap is $5,000—or $5,500 if the employee is in the financial services sector—the ONE Pass salary threshold is much higher, comparable to only 5% of the EP holders. Two-thirds of Lion City’s EP holders come from China, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Britain.

The launch of the ONE Pass has raised questions about how it will impact the job market in Singapore and other countries and whether it will successfully attract the best global talent. 

Data from the 2023 Michael Page salary trends report reveals that one of the highest paying jobs in China for the banking industry is an investment director, earning an annual income of RMB2m ($390,000). Meanwhile, the top-paying jobs in India and Japan are financial controllers or group financial officers. 

Talent-hungry industries

Despite approving the ONE Pass, the Singapore government still wants to grow its local talent. But for some industries in the Lion City, foreign talent may be needed, Jaya Dass, managing director of permanent recruitment in APAC, Randstad.

“The work experience of ONE pass holders would come useful to companies that are looking for professional expertise to drive transformation or restructuring initiatives, particularly in high-growth sectors such as fintech, healthcare, and renewable energy,” said Dass.

Employers in Singapore will also welcome ONE visa holders because it will allow them to engage with “hard-to-find talent,” particularly those working in fields related to Web3 and environment, social, and governance. 

“These holders would also be able to elevate the calibre of talent in Singapore as they set a new bar for both foreign and local workers,” said Dass.

McNeilis pointed out that some of the top talent in Singapore comes  from the financial services industry, life sciences, technology, and logistics supply chain industries.

“Logistics supply chain, production and distribution, some of those skills have been incredibly well-honed with local companies but also in countries such as America where companies in Singapore want to get hold of that talent,” McNeilis explained.

“Singapore has got a strong reputation, a lot of people describe it as the Switzerland of Asia. It is seen as a safe, family-friendly, and wonderfully well-regulated transparent community to conduct business,” said McNeilis, adding that this reputation may tempt foreigners to work in the Lion City.

Enough safeguards

The government has implemented safeguards to prevent  false salary declarations by ONE Pass holders. For example, Dass said applicants should submit a detailed curriculum vitae that includes academic qualifications, professional experience, accomplishments, and letters of endorsement by a local host research institution.

The Ministry of Manpower will vet all ONE Pass applications, requiring applicants to provide documents to verify that the declared salary will be paid.

“The one thing I've learned about Singapore is that in matters like visas, whether it's an EP or ONE visa, the authorities will not simply take your word for it,” said McNeilis.

No overlap

Despite the presence of other  employment passes, the new top talent pass is designed for a specific purpose whilst the employment pass and other passes are in the general audience.

Jeffrey Ng, regional director of Michael Page, said such a visa will not overlap as its aim is to attract global talent.

“It's good news. It is what companies look for or when they want to move their hubs or the base to Singapore,” said Ng.

The pass’s five-year validity allows top professionals to live in Singapore and relocate their families. Their spouse will also receive a letter of consent to work in Singapore, simplifying the relocation process.

“With the ONE Pass, top talent from around the world know that it's a lot easier to move to Singapore. They can just bring their family here. That's very attractive,” Ng added.

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