SINGAPORE —About a quarter of the 177,100 employment pass (EP) holders in Singapore hail from India, said Manpower Minister Tan See Leng in Parliament on Tuesday (6 July).
"The proportion of EP holders from India has increased from about one seventh in 2005 to about a quarter in 2020," said Dr Tan, who did not give specific numbers. According to the Ministry of Manpower website, there were some 177,100 EP holders in Singapore as of December 2020. This does not account for S pass or work permit holders, as well as holders of other work passes.
The minister noted that by comparison, the proportion of EP holders from China has remained relatively stable across the same time period. "Now, is this the result of more favourable treatment for Indian EP holders due to CECA? The answer is no."
He stressed that there is no differentiation based on nationality: all work pass holders in Singapore have to meet the same criteria before they are allowed to enter the local labour market. "Rather, these numbers reflect trends in the global demand and supply of tech talent."
Speaking during the debate on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between Singapore and India, Dr Tan was responding to queries from Non-Constituency MPs Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa on the nationality profile of work pass holders in Singapore.
Dr Tan told the House that for foreign policy reasons, Singapore does not publish detailed statistics on its foreign workforce, especially by nationality. However, the government had decided to reveal some figures in order to allay the damage from "misconceptions".
He added that the top nationalities that comprise around two thirds of EP holders, has been consistent since 2005, namely China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, and the UK.
Economic needs, labour shortage
The larger increases in Indian EP holders compared with other nationalities, said Dr Tan, is driven by rapid growth in the digital economy and finance, as every sector seeks tech talent in order to be digitally enabled.
"We don't have enough locals to fill the jobs available. In the infocomm sector alone today, 6,000 jobs currently remain unfilled," said Dr Tan, who noted that China and India have been two of the largest suppliers of tech talent over the last decade or so.
But while Chinese talent across different sectors are increasingly opting to stay in their own country, especially in light of the many unicorns that have sprouted, India's talent have continued to look outwards. It is currently the largest country of origin for international migrants.
Citing the January 2021 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs report, Dr Tan noted that in 2020 alone, it accounted for 18 million international migrants, up by 10 million from 2000. India has also grown to become the second largest source of immigrants in the US, and the third largest in the UK.
"Given our relative shortage of manpower, even if the workers don't come from India, they will come from somewhere else," he added.
While stressing that Indian talent have helped the economy and to create better Singaporean jobs, the minister acknowledged that their "increasing concentration" has caused social frictions and anxiety to Singaporeans, particularly as many EP holders are transient.
"Most EP holders work here for a few years, and they either return home, or they move on elsewhere. So it is to be expected, that they are different, and we do feel that they are different. And this is the challenge of living in our multicultural society and a globalised world.
"This is something that we will have to proactively, and we have been constantly monitoring and managing," said Dr Tan.
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