Singapore’s expat numbers slump to lowest level since 2010

Singapore’s expat numbers slump to lowest level since 2010

In this photograph taken on Feb 18, 2022, office workers go out for their lunch break in the Raffles Place financial business district in Singapore. (AFP)
In this photograph taken on Feb 18, 2022, office workers go out for their lunch break in the Raffles Place financial business district in Singapore. (AFP)

The number of expatriate white-collar workers in Singapore fell to the lowest in more than a decade, suggesting that the city hasn’t yet benefited from an exodus of professionals from the rival finance hub of Hong Kong.

Ministry of Manpower figures released on Wednesday show that Employment Pass holders - a type of visa issued to foreign professionals, managers and executives earning at least S$4500 ($3300) per month - fell by 9% in the year ended December 2021 to 161,700. 

That’s the lowest level since 2010 when there were 143,300 in the country, according to data provided by the ministry’s website and a spokesperson. 

Singapore has traditionally drawn well-heeled expatriates thanks its low taxes and role as a regional base for a range of industries. But with Covid-19 exacerbating the concerns of some locals that foreigners are taking the best jobs, the government has been tightening the criteria for businesses wishing to hire such workers from abroad.

Restrictions on travel thanks to the pandemic have also contributed to a steady decline in the net number of expatriates in the city over the last two years. Meanwhile, the exodus of white-collar professionals from Hong Kong hasn’t translated into a boost for Singapore.  

The decline has extended beyond white-collar workers to include technicians and laborers in the construction sector. Housing projects and other building works have faced lengthy delays as a result. The total number of foreign workers in the city-state stood at 1.2 million at the end of last year, well below the 1.43 million that Singapore hosted in 2019.

But the city has pledged to fill a shortage of overseas workers within the next few months. The number of blue-collar Work Permit holders rose by 15,400 in the six months ended December 2021.

To be sure, numbers for white-collar expatriates could shift in the other direction this year as Singapore re-opens its borders in an effort to live with Covid while Hong Kong implements stringent measures that have exacerbated departures.

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