Like most countries, Singapore protects its borders with the paperwork needed to visit, travel, live or work there. Some countries’ nationals are visa-exempt for business and leisure purposes for up to 30 days and a few for 90 days, as long as it is not for paid employment. For others, a national visa can be applied for at a local embassy or consulate in the home country for tourism or business. These pre-entry visas must be applied for 30 days before the planned trip.
Having a visa or being a visa-exempt foreigner does not necessarily permit entry into Singapore. All foreigners still need a Visit Pass, given at border control by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). All foreigners also require an SG Arrival Card, which replaces the previous Disembarkation / Embarkation Card. Bradford Jacobs, a Professional Employment Organisation (PEO) and Employer of Record (EOR) with more than 20 years of experience, has specialists regarding recruitment, work permits, visas and other documentation and can have staff in place quickly and cost-effectively.
People looking for employment require a Work Pass or Work Permit. There are up to eight different types depending on occupation and qualifications but mainly on salary. All working documentation comes under the Ministry of Manpower. Singapore is encouraging foreigners, from CEOs to labourers, to supplement an ageing population, low birth rate and high economic growth; 40% of the population is made up of immigrants. However, understanding the immigration system for work permits or passes needs expert advice on the best route for companies to ‘onboard’ their employees.
Although many countries’ nationals can enter Singapore visa-free for business, tourism, and medical treatment for either 30 or 90 days, all foreigners seeking paid employment require documentation. There are two routes into the employment market for foreigners:
First, the foreigner needs a job offer and an employer who can sponsor a Work Pass or a Work Permit (similar to Work Visas in other countries) for employment. Several types are available, with different eligibility, qualifications and salary requirements. There are eight visa types, and the employee should know which is needed before starting employment. They fall into two categories:
Employment Pass (EP): Issued to professional foreigners at a managerial or executive level. This Pass requires high-end educational or technical qualifications, and more importantly, a high salary should come with the job, i.e. SGD 4,500 (€3,000, US$3,320) per month. However, from September 1 2022, the qualifying salary increases to SGD 5,000 (€3,332, US$3,686). Ministry of Manpower can also issue this ‘pass’ to individuals who have established a company and wish to live in Singapore to run the business. They are issued for one to two years, renewable. No quotas or Foreign Worker Levy are applicable.
EntrePass (Entrepreneur Pass): For individuals wanting to set up a business either backed by private funding (venture capital) or can demonstrate state-of-the-art technologies. Issued for one year, renewable for two. No minimum income, quotas, or Workers Levy apply.
Personalized Employment Pass (PEP): Similar to the EP, but more flexible as employees are not tied to any one employer and have a higher income bracket; however, they cannot perform any entrepreneurial activities, e.g. start a business on this Pass. New employees require a monthly salary of SGD 18,000 (€12,000, US$13,272).
S Pass: For ‘mid-level’ skilled positions such as supervisors, technicians, office or account managers, team leaders, etc. A salary minimum of SGD 2,500 (€1,666, US$1,843) per month is required. However, from September 1 2022, there are increases to SGD 3,000 (€2,000, US$2,212), then again in 2023 and 2025. Quotas and a Foreign Worker Levy apply for each S Pass holder employed. Employers must provide illness and accident insurance up to SGD 15,000 (€10,000, US$11,060).
Training Employment Pass: For individuals receiving practical training and as foreign professionals earn a minimum salary of SGD 3,000 (€2,000, US$2,212) per month.
Work Holiday Passes: Available under the Work and Holiday Visa Programs.
Training Employment Work Permit: For training up to six months for semi-skilled foreign workers.
Work Permits sponsored and supported by employers for Migrant Domestic Workers (MDW) apply in construction, marine, manufacturing and service sectors; for nannies and performing artists. These are subject to a Foreign Worker Levy and quota restrictions.
Note: Employers are responsible for these employees and must provide a security bond and medical and accident insurance. From April 2022, employers must buy a Primary Care Plan for all eligible employees with Work Permits.
General Notes on working passes and permits:
The two main work passes for employers looking for foreign workers are The Employment Pass and the S Pass. The employer (or licensed agent on their behalf) applies to the MOM for the Pass on the employee’s behalf. An In-Principle Approval Letter (IPA) is issued and sent to the employer within four weeks as long as all paperwork has been supplied.
A copy is sent to the employee in the home country who uses this to travel to Singapore. At the border, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) issues a one-time visa (Visit Pass) to enter the country to request and collect the Employment Pass or S Pass. This allows employees to live and work in the country as well as exit and enter without visas. However, they require an SG Arrival Card that replaces the previous Disembarkation / Embarkation Card.
Foreigners who want to work and live in Singapore must first have a job offer from an employer who is eligible and can apply for their Work Pass or Work Permit.
For the Employment (EP) and S Pass:
Employees: As it is the employer (or agent with relevant license) who is responsible for the Work Pass, the employee has to give permission for them to apply on their behalf (e.g. an employment contract/agreement). They need to gather all required documents and ensure they have been translated (if necessary, into English) and legalised by a recognised authority (not a notary).
Employers: Should confirm they are applying for the correct Work Pass. The government provides a Self-Assessment ‘tool’ to help determine whether candidates are eligible to apply for Work Passes. They need to advertise the position for 28 days on MyCareersFuture website before submitting the application. This provides a guideline for considering all candidates as per ‘Fair Employment Practices’.
However, they are exempt if:
Documents required to apply for Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass by employers:
Upon approval, an In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter is issued and sent to the employer, who sends a copy to the employee. This has to be presented to the airline when leaving home country and when arriving in Singapore along with a valid passport and SG Arrival Card. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) then issues a one-time entry visa (Visit Pass). There may be other requirements on the IPA letter, for instance, a medical check. This can be done before leaving home country or after arriving in Singapore.
The employee has six months to travel to and enter Singapore and request the issuance of the EP Pass or S Pass and Card – online through the MyMOMPortal using the same account the employer used when applying for the Work Pass.
Documents needed for issuing EP and S Pass Card:
Employee should reside at the nominated address until the EP or S Pass is issued. When issued, the employer and employee receive a notification letter allowing the worker to enter and exit Singapore and start working. As part of the process, the ‘notification’ should state whether the employee needs to provide fingerprints and photo (biometrics). The next step involves the employer making an appointment at the Employment Pass Services Center (EPSC) for the employee to be registered, within 14 days from the EP or S Pass being issued and they should take with them to the appointment:
Four days later the Employment Pass Card or S Pass Card is delivered to the address provided.