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Singapore must not view residents, foreigners as ‘a zero-sum game and draw divides’ :Tan See Leng

The Manpower Minister said employing foreigners does not mean removing opportunities for Singapore citizens.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said Singapore should not look negatively towards foreign employment as this provides locals with better opportunities.

“So we must not view residents and foreigners as a zero-sum game and continue to draw divides,” Tan said in Parliament on Tuesday. 

“Thriving businesses with access to complementary foreign talent will not only lead to more job creation but also improve overall wage outcomes as businesses expand and improve their productivity,” he added. 

This was Tan ‘s response to Workers' Party member Gerald Giam’s question. The latter specifically asked how the ministry will ensure that the bulk of the new jobs in 2024 will go to Singapore citizens and residents.

Giam noted that non-residents make up 83,500 of the 88,400 total employment growth in 2023.

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Tan said “this view is fundamentally misguided.” He also said it is wrong to think that a net increase in foreign employment means that Singaporeans are being left out.

The official said the ministry is aiming to balance ensuring that businesses access skills and manpower they need to grow, and creating opportunities for local workers to also advance.

Tan said the ministry’s approach has resulted in a positive impact to locals. He said between 2013 and 2023, the number of resident Professionals, Managers, Executives, and Technicians (PMET) increased by 380,000, as well as Employment Pass and S Pass holders by 50,000. 

“In growth sectors such as Finance, Infocomm, and Professional Services, resident PMETs increased by 190,000 and the number of EP and S Pass holders increased by 20,000. But more importantly, over the decade, resident income has also increased by 21.6% in real terms,” Tan said.

Tan said the ministry is also focusing on ensuring that Singaporeans can find a job if they want to. This reflected positively on 2023’s resident employment rate at 66.2%, the fourth highest among advanced economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, he noted. 

Singapore’s resident unemployment rate and long-term unemployment rate also remained “very low” at 2.7% and 0.7%, respectively, he added. 

On the 83,500 non-resident employment growth rate, Tan noted that only 18,700, or 22.4%, were from higher-skilled EP and S Pass holders. The total number is even below pre-COVID-19 levels, he added.

The remaining 64,800 was due to an increase of holders for Work Permits and other Work Passes in sectors like construction, a field not usually taken by Singaporeans.

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