Singapore is globally known for its business-friendly environment. For the past decade, the Republic has been consistently named as the easiest place for doing business by the World Bank Group’s Doing Business report. Beyond the competitive tax regime, exceptional infrastructure, transparent policies, and stable political and economic environment of Singapore, the labour force also plays a key role in making the city-state an ideal destination for starting, operating, and growing a business.
Understanding Singapore’s Labour Market
The IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2015 classed Singapore in the top 10 skilled labour pools in the region. This can be attributed to effective education policies, training programmes and incentives for employees. Data from the Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016 further showed that Singapore has superior working conditions and higher productivity rates because of good employee and employer relations.
The data from the Labour Market Advance Release 2015 report published by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department (MRSD) under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the employment in Singapore has increased by 31,800 or 0.9%. The employment growth in the fourth quarter of 2015 at 15,000 was significantly lower in the fourth quarter of 2014 at 40,700.
The report further mentioned that the growth foreign employment has moderated. “The growth in foreign employment was driven by the Services sector, at both the Work Permit Holders (WPH) and Employment Pass (EP) level. The Information and Communications sector accounted for the bulk of EP holder growth, while the Construction, Transport & Storage, Food & Beverage Services as well as Administrative and Support Services sectors contributed to the bulk of the growth in Work Permit Holders,” added the agency.
Country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore Ms. Linda Teo said in the latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey Results: “Even though we may not be in a recessionary mode, the employment sentiment certainly isn’t as positive as it has been in the past. In fact, the third-quarter results are the weakest reported since we started to emerge from the last global financial crisis. However, more than three-quarters of the employers we surveyed told us they planned to keep their current workforces intact during the July-September time frame. Employers are clearly sensing more uncertainty in the business environment, but most of them appear to be waiting for clearer signs in the market place before they engage in further personnel decisions.”
To give an overview of foreign employment in the city-state, MOM released a breakdown of foreign workforce in Singapore. Based on the data, there was a total of 187,900 Employment Pass holders in the city-state by December 2015.
|Foreign Workforce Numbers
|Employment Pass (EP)
|Work Permit (Total)
|Work Permit (Foreign Domestic Worker)
|Work Permit (Construction)
|Other Work Passes2
|Total Foreign Workforce
|Total Foreign Workforce
(excluding Foreign Domestic Workers)
|Total Foreign Workforce
(excluding Foreign Domestic Workers & Construction)
Work Pass and Permits
The government implements employment pass schemes that allow foreign professionals with a vast set of skills and level of experience to work in the city-state to augment the manpower requirements of companies registered in Singapore. These include the Employment Pass (EP), S Pass, work permit for foreign worker, work permit for foreign domestic worker, work permit for confinement nanny, and work permit for performing artiste.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the governing body in charge of the assessment, approval, and issuance of work passes for foreign professionals, assesses applications based on wide-ranging criteria to ensure the quality foreign hires.
Singapore Employment Pass
This article contains key information you need to know when applying for a Singapore Employment Pass (EP) including the eligibility, application process, requirements and card issuance process.
The Singapore Employment Pass or EP is for foreign professionals who are handling executive, managerial, or specialised work positions. Employment Pass holders can work, live, travel with ease internationally, and in some cases, even apply for a Dependant’s Pass or Long Term Visit Pass for certain family members. Having an Employment Pass can also be instrumental in applying for permanent residence in the future. There is no quota to the number of Employment Pass holders that companies registered in Singapore can hire as each application is evaluated by the MOM based on the qualifications of both the Singapore employer and candidate.
Validity of Employment Pass (EP)
The validity of an Employment Pass is usually from 1 to 2 years for first-time applicants. However, a renewed EP is valid up to 3 years.
Who should facilitate the Employment Pass application?
The employer or an appointed employment agency are the only entities allowed to apply for an Employment Pass.
How long does the process take?
Like most government transactions, the application for an EP can be done either manually through the MOM office or online through the EP Online, Singapore’s main portal for computerised employment pass applications.
Since the government promotes paperless services, transactions done online have a relatively quicker turnover. The processing time for online applications is 7 days while manual applications take 5 weeks. For some cases, it may take even longer.
For online applications, the employer can get status updates by simply checking online within the processing period. Meanwhile, for manual EP application, the employers can check the application status 21 days after submission.
How can you qualify for an Employment Pass?
The candidate must meet the following minimum qualifications if you intend to apply for an Employment Pass:
- Must have a job offer from an employer based in Singapore
- Must be handling a managerial, executive, or specialised job
- Must have a fixed compensation of at least S$3,300 (READ UPDATE: Qualifying Salary for Singapore Employment Pass To Be Raised To S$3,600 effective 1 January 2017)
- Must have a good educational background, professional qualifications and specialist skills
– The minimum fixed salary of S$3,300 is suitable for young fresh graduates from good educational institutions. On the other hand, professionals with more credentials and experience should be offered a higher compensation.
– A good educational background from a reputable institution will be helpful. Although MOM does not have a list of approved educational institutions.
– The agency evaluates each EP application on its own merit. An applicant with acceptable qualifications does not guarantee an approval. Likewise, an individual without acceptable qualifications may not be rejected.
– Other factors such as proven track record and specialised skill set are also considered by MOM.
MOM highly encourages employers and candidates to try the Self-Assessment Tool (SAT) in order to gauge if the necessary requirements for the pass are met. Positive SAT results indicate that there is a higher likelihood that the application for the pass will be approved.
Additionally, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say underscored the importance of strengthening the Singaporean core workforce in a debate at the Parliament on April 8. In order to achieve this, changes in the criteria for Employment Pass (EP) will be implemented which will include considering the proportion of locals employed by the firm and if the company is committed to boosting the Singaporean workforce.
What are the requirements for Employment Pass application?
Applicants for the Employment Pass must prepare the following:
- Educational documents – Diploma, transcripts, certificate of graduation
- Personal particulars page of the candidate’s passport or travel document
- The employer’s latest business profile or instant information listed with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA)
Take note that documents that are not in English must be submitted with an official English translation. This could be from translation service providers, notary public or High Commission or Embassy.
What is the application process?
The application process includes submitting requirements, assessment, and approval, registering fingerprint and photo at the MOM office, receiving the EP Card, and requesting the issuance of the pass.
Submitting your Employment Pass application
The application must be facilitated by a company representative or an employment agency who will apply on behalf of the company.
Once the pass is approved, an In-Principal Approval letter (IPA) will be sent to the employer. The IPA indicates the requirements that the applicant and employer must furnish for the card to be issued. These include educational certificates, travel document, disembarkation card, completed declaration form that must be attached to the IPA, applicant’s residential address and the employer representative’s contact details needed for the card delivery process.
Requesting for the pass issuance
The company representative or employment agency who facilitated the application must request for the issuance of the EP card within 6 months of the in-principle approval.
While applicants are not required to be in Singapore once the employer applied for the pass, the applicants must be present in Singapore once the employer files a card issuance request. In case the candidate is already in Singapore using a visit pass that will expire before the EP card is issued, MOM will not be able to extend the visit pass. The employer must ensure that the candidate’s passport is valid prior to requesting for the pass to be issued.
Registering fingerprint and photo
MOM will indicate in the notification letter if the candidate needs to undergo fingerprint and photo registration. Normally, first-time applicants and those who have been registered more than 5 years ago are required to register their fingerprint and photo. Within 2 weeks upon the issuance of the pass, the candidate must schedule an appointment at Employment Pass Services Centre or EPSC (Address: The Riverwalk, 20 Upper Circular Road, #04-01/02, Singapore 058416), submit the required documents, undergo fingerprint and image registration.
The Employment Pass card will then be delivered 4 working days after the applicant’s successful registration at the EPSC.
What should you do if the EP application is rejected?
To ensure the quality of Singapore’s foreign workforce, MOM has made some adjustments with the criteria for Employment Pass application. In case your EP application is unsuccessful, you have 3 months to appeal. MOM indicates the reasons why the application has been rejected through EP online or in the rejection letter for those who applied manually. Of course, one must only submit an appeal if the issues mentioned by MOM in the rejection advisory can be addressed.
Take note that the appeal can only be processed by the employer or the appointed employment agency who applied for the employment pass. You can carry out the appeal through the EP online. The appeal process usually takes 3 weeks or more depending on the case.
Applying for a Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP)
The Long Term Visit Pass or LTVP allows certain family members of qualified Employment Pass holders to visit Singapore for an extended period of time. The duration of an LTVP can last up to two years albeit it is tied to the main work pass’ validity.
An Employment Pass holder must have a monthly compensation of at least S$5,000 to be eligible to apply for an LTVP for the following family members:
- common-law spouse
- unmarried handicapped children who are above 21 years old
- unmarried stepchildren who are under 21 years old
Meanwhile, Employment Pass holders who want to bring their parents in Singapore on an LTVP must have a monthly compensation of at least S$10,000.
Among the main requirements are the passport details, birth certificates or marriage certificates. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) may also require the following additional documents:
Any one of the following:
- A copy of the common-law marriage certificate.
- A letter from the embassy acknowledging that the work pass holder (WPH) and spouse are in a common-law relationship under the laws of their country.
An affidavit from the WPH declaring that the WPH and spouse are in a common-law relationship under the laws of their country. The affidavit must also be notarised in that same country.
A letter or report from a medical practitioner on the child’s condition.
A copy of the court order on the child’s custody.
A letter from the other biological parent stating there is no objection to bringing the child to Singapore.
A copy of the court order on the child’s custody.
A copy of the work pass holder’s birth certificate that states the names of the parents.
Note that an English translation of documents in foreign languages must be presented along with the original document.
Similar to the process of applying for an EP, only the employer or an appointed employment agency can facilitate the LVTP application online or manually. The online application can last up to 7 days while manual application usually takes up to 5 weeks.
Handling Employment Pass Renewal
Three months before the validity of an Employment Pass card expires, the MOM will send an EP renewal form to the registered office address of your employer. The application must be processed at least four weeks before the Employment Pass is due to expire. Once the application for renewal is approved, an approval letter will be sent to your employer. After which, you will be required to go to the MOM office in order to claim your new Employment Pass.