I chanced upon this article on LinkedIn titled “Don’t bother applying. We won’t be able to justify hiring a foreigner like you” written by a lady named Shermin Oh in 2016.
The author shared about how her friend from India complained that she did not a job “simply because she was not Singaporean”. Oh lamented that our Singaporeans First policy is “extremely discriminatory to talented foreigners”.
What stood out was the comments of many foreign PMETs:
“Thanks for this article… I cannot agree more… When I came to Singapore and started looking for Job … There were instances where my resume was extremely close to the job profile however I did not get a single call for an interview… It was disheartening. Job should be given based on ability not nationality.”
– Shabri Laddha
“Oh you said things which many dare to speak openly. Bold attempt, keep up the good work, all the best !!…On dot..”
– Sreenath Madhavan, Middle Office Support Specialist at TD Bank Group
“Brilliant write up. It takes courage to state the facts as they are and wisdom to suggest solutions….there exists a need of business leaders who can truly commit to diversity in letter and spirit.”
– Amit Mehan, Faculty- Leadership Development at Tata Consultancy Services
“Shermin, what good a Government would be if it is not for its people! The Gov listened to its constituency post 2011 and the results are visible subsequently in 2015.”
– Rajesh H Acharya
Before I continue, I thought I would make it clear that I believe Singapore needs the contribution of citizens from other countries to help fill up our gaps. Their presence gives Singapore a vitality that keeps us economically relevant and also provides jobs and opportunities to our fellow Singaporeans.
I personally appreciate the contributions of many of these workers who have come here to share their knowledge and help our economy. I also understand that in some circumstances, there is truly a real lack of local manpower and skills.
What many of us are calling for is greater protection to ensure that our local workforce is not disadvantaged by foreign PMETs who use this system to hire and promote their own kind, especially if those roles do not require any kind of foreign expertise.
After seeing that many Singaporeans were concerned about these comments, I decided to write an entry to explain why Singapore is taking steps to prioritize our locals first when it comes to jobs.
Table of Contents
1) Isn’t the Singaporeans First Policy is a responsibility of the local government to her people?
Firstly, without the Singaporeans First policy, Singaporeans will be severely disadvantaged globally and in their own home country.
Almost every other country in the world have a “locals first” policy and set a quota on the number of foreigners i.e. USA; Hong Kong; Switzerland; China; UK and India. This makes it hard for Singaporeans to find jobs overseas too.
If there are barriers in getting good jobs overseas and in our home country, wouldn’t Singaporeans be placed at a major disadvantage both at home and in other countries?
As Lai Ling Lau, Director at one of the top banks in Singapore explains
“Imagine Singaporeans having a tough time overseas and coming home to face a ‘fair’ world, where would that leave us? Most likely jobless.”Lai Ling Lau
Furthermore, Is its reasonable to expect to deserve to citizen-quality treatment with no citizen obligations i.e. National Service?
I personally feel that no country owes her non-citizens a living. As an expat, one should accept the benefits and risks of working abroad. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, you contribute to the country, the country pays you well.
When the country is in a crisis, it will of course protect its people first. Just like, how the expats’ countries will protect them first.
It does come across as entitled when some expats wish to be prioritized the same way as local, especially during times of economic crisis.
Furthermore, it kind of comes across as entitled that the foreigners are complaining about discrimination here and not having a ‘free market’ when their own countries have much stricter immigration policies.
For example, foreign hiring in India cannot exceed 1 percent of an employer’s workforce. In this regard, Singapore is much more open than India.
While Singapore has tighter immigration policies than before, we are still considered extremely liberal with foreign workers by global standards as they make up one-third of our workforce.
To simply put, it is much harder for an employer in these expats’ home countries to hire a Singaporean worker than for a Singaporean employer to hire a worker from the EU, America, India or China.
Having read several comments above, I was glad to see a Singaporean working overseas say this
“I am a Singaporean working overseas but I would totally understand if such a law were applied to protect locals here. It’s their country, and they deserve privileges and rights over me. So I don’t see why foreigners trying to get jobs in Singapore should be complaining when they don’t have any right to.”Joel Ee
2) The Singaporeans First Policy protect locals from foreigners who abuse our system
The second point in response to this post was raised by Joel Ee, a Singaporean working in investment management in Hong Kong and who holds a Masters of Finance from the prestigious University of Hong Kong.
“It’s interesting that the majority of people commenting and agreeing with your view are foreigners and the fact that they prefer this policy to be overturned…let’s discount all their views purely because they’re acting in self-interest.
Added to the fact that there have been many reports of foreigners forming enclaves in the various companies they work in and only hiring their own whilst not practicing meritocracy, it is easy to see why the Singaporeans First policy was required.”
Another Singaporean, Carolyn Seet, VP at a Swiss global financial company shared the same views.
“This law had to come about as people were hiring candidates from similar backgrounds rather than skills. This is more insidious as… Singapore, as a country, will face reputational damage if our workforce quality drops due to such hiring processes….
However, you will be pleased to know that your rant is unjustified as the Singapore-first law only lasts for 2 weeks. So if no local talent is found during that time, HR is able to go to the open market and choose from the “best” talent available, Singaporean or not. Hence, you can tell your friends to wait and reapply a fortnight later
I definitely agree with Joel Ee and Carolyn Seet this point.
There are several instances where foreign PMETs have abused our liberal system to hire and promote their own kind, discriminating Singaporean workers in the process.
According to a global eFinancialCareers staff-diversity survey, around 30 percent of Singaporeans said they had experienced or witnessed discrimination on the grounds of nationality at their currently employer – a larger percentage than for either age or gender discrimination in the country.
This is supported by a recent survey by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) in 2014 where complaints about preferential treatment towards foreigners remain the No. 1 concern Singaporeans have over unfair employment practices, for the third year running.
In fact, our former Minister of Manpower, Tan Chuan Jin, had also admitted that some foreigners have been taking advantage of our liberal laws. Quoting him:
“We have heard anecdotes of how in certain cases, heads of business units or HR managers have a preference for candidates they are familiar with or of the same nationality, for reasons that are irrelevant to job performance and irrespective of whether they are more competent than other candidates…
We have also heard of situations where Singaporeans were retrenched or made to resign in the name of down-sizing, only to realise later that their positions were given to foreigners, who were coincidentally from the same countries as the business heads…
Let me be quite blunt. Would these practices not sound discriminatory? Would any respectable progressive company endorse these practices? If this hiring is indeed because they care only about choosing familiar candidates and not about hiring the ‘best man for the job’, then such practices have no place in Singapore’s workplaces. Discrimination will not and cannot be tolerated.”
3) The Singaporeans First Policy may improve Foreigners’ attitudes towards locals
Besides the sense of entitlement among many foreign PMETs, what worries me is the growing trend of foreign PMETs belitting and making offensive remarks about Singaporeans.
One case stood out at the end of 2015. The first would be the case of a Filipino man, Ello Ed Mundsel Bello who was an employee of Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
He called us losers, talked about how his race would take over our country and proclaimed that “PINOY BETTER AND STRONGER THAN STINKAPOREANS”. Edz Ello eventually took down his post and apologized after Singaporeans filed a police report about his seditious comments.
As a Singaporean, I find it sad that some foreigners feel entitled to the same rights as citizens and even look down on us. I hope that the examples I have encountered are only a small minority and certainly do not represent the views of most foreign PMETs here.
In most other countries, foreign workers will feel grateful for the educational and employment opportunities they have been given but we seem to be taken for granted despite having given more than most countries.
I guess Singapore’s super liberal immigration policies have caused some of the foreign PMETs in Singapore to believe they are superior and made it here entirely based on their merit alone.
Thus, restoring the rights of our citizens by having a Singaporeans First Policy would help reduce the sense of entitlement and superiority which some ungrateful foreign PMETS have.
By writing this post, I would like to emphasize that I am not against foreigners who wish to come here to contribute to our economy. In fact, I enjoy being in an internationally diverse workplace and learning about foreign cultures. My curiosity and love for learning more about those who come from different cultural backgrounds is why I have jumped at every opportunity I could to work, compete and study abroad.
However, it definitely crosses the line when some foreigners feel entitled to citizenship rights without the obligations, or abuse our generous system to hire those of the same nationality as them.