Singapore’s S Pass and Employment Pass allow foreign workers to be employed in Singapore. Both are intended for short periods of 1 to 3 years, but they can be extended. The main differences between the two are their eligibility criteria.
On the one hand, the S Pass and Employment Pass are meant to allow companies to employ global talent in Singapore. Singapore itself is a successful business-friendly tech and start-up hub. But the passes are also meant to encourage foreign companies to employ local Singaporeans in priority to foreigners where that is possible.
The regulations for S Pass and Employment Pass applications are becoming increasingly strict. A successful S or Employment application is currently hard to come by. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Afterall, Singapore is an attractive place to be doing business.
You will need to understand all the details and differences to know whether either pass is the right path for you and how to apply.
Who Is It For?
The S Pass is targeted at unskilled and non-technical staff. They must be earning a minimum of $2500 a month in junior positions. However, an employee’s salary does also need to be commensurate with their level of experience, skills, and qualifications.
On the other hand, Employment Pass holders are foreign professionals in a specialised, managerial, or executive role. This also includes intra-company transfers or new hires that you want to relocate from another office to your Singapore office. They will be earning at least $4500 a month in junior positions. Again, this will vary according to their skills, experience, and qualifications.
In both cases, employers apply on behalf of their employees, so foreign companies MUST have a registered presence in Singapore.
Both the S Pass and the Employment Pass are open to people of all nationalities. The main differences in the eligibility criteria are the roles, income, and required qualifications.
S Pass holders must:
- Earn at least $2500 a month
- This applies to younger workers. Older workers must be earning more, commensurate with their work experience
- Have a degree or diploma, earned after at least 1 year of full-time study
- Have relevant work experience
Similarly, Employment Pass holders must:
- Earn more than $4500 a month
- This applies to younger professionals under 40. Older professionals in their 40s and over must earn about double as much
- A minimum salary of $5000 a month for young people in the financial sector
- Qualifications from accredited institutions - this does not mean any recognised university or college, it is a specific list of institutions approved by the government and in some cases may only include a handful of institutions in the world for a specific type of qualification
You can use the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower’s self-assessment tool to get an initial understanding of whether your chosen hire is eligible for an S or Employment Pass. But keep in mind that this tool is not binding and doesn’t definitively reflect the outcome of the application.
The mandatory route for obtaining an S or an Employment Pass is to first advertise the job on MyCareersFuture.gov.sg which specifically targets Singaporeans. All candidates, whether local Singaporean or foreign, must be considered equally. This is part of the Fair Considerations Framework (FCF).
The Government is trying to ensure that employers are advertising their roles openly and considering suitable candidates from Singapore as well, not only from abroad. The aim is not only to bring in foreign companies but to encourage them to set up a permanent base in Singapore with local hires.
Particularly since the economic downturn caused by Covid-19, the government is placing considerable importance on the FCF. All jobs must be advertised for at least 28 days on MyCareersFuture.gov.sg. The state will also be checking more thoroughly in the future to ensure foreign companies are not discriminating against qualified locals. Employers who are found to employ on S and E Passes at the expense of qualified locals will be placed on a Watchlist.
Both S Pass and Employment Pass holders can apply for Dependant’s Passes for legally married spouses and unmarried children under 21. To do this, the S or Employment Pass holder needs to earn at least $6000 a month. Again, the employer must apply on behalf of the employee and their family. However, as of May 1st 2021, family members can no longer work under the Dependant’s Pass and will have to obtain a separate work pass via their own employers.
Intra-Corporate Transfer Route
Again, for Employment Pass holders, overseas companies can make an intra-corporate transfer to Singapore without advertising the role. However, the regulations have been tightened as of 2021.
As of now, if companies want to transfer an intra-corporate transferee to a Singapore office, then the individual’s family won’t be able to get a Dependent’s Pass or Long-Term Visit Pass. However, this may vary according to whether they are covered by a particular Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Generally, if an employee is applying for an Employment Pass and wants their family to settle in Singapore as well, it is best to go through the mandatory route and advertise the role.
Medical Insurance, Quota & Levy
Unlike the Employment Pass, the S Pass is subject to demands regarding mandatory medical insurance, a quota and levy rates.
While S Pass holders may receive fewer perks, such as a higher salary of family passes, they are granted mandatory medical insurance. Employment Pass holders can receive medical insurance as well, but this is up to their employers.
Moreover, the number of S Pass holders an employer can hire is capped at 18% of the company’s total workforce in all non-service and non-manufacturing sectors. A company’s total workforce is calculated as follows: number of local employees (earning a local qualifying salary) + number of work permit holders + number of S Pass holders.
For all non-service and non-manufacturing sectors, the levy rate is:
Neither the quotas nor the levy rates apply to the Employment Pass regulations.
Duration & Renewal
S Pass Holders get to keep their pass for 2 years. This can be renewed indefinitely.
First time Employment Pass holders can work for 1 year. A renewed Employment Pass can be granted for up to 3 years, though this may be as little as 1 year. Again, there are no restrictions on the number of renewals
However, no renewals are ever guaranteed. They must be applied for and the government reserves the right to reject the application for any reason it deems relevant. Generally the reasons for rejection are not provided.
To make things clearer, here are the main differences between the S Pass and Employment Pass again: