Singapore limits use of work pass exemption

6 Nov 15

SINGAPORE

IMPACT – HIGH

What is the change? Foreign nationals may now only use a work pass exemption for 90 days per calendar year.

What does the change mean? Foreign nationals performing work pass exempt activities for more than a cumulative 90 days in a calendar year will instead need to obtain the appropriate work authorization. The Ministry of Manpower has also further limited the types of activities that can be performed under the “Specialised Services” category.

  • Implementation time frame: Immediate.
  • Visas/permits affected: Work pass exemption.
  • Who is affected: Foreign nationals using the work pass exemption.
  • Business impact: The 90-day limit per calendar year and the changes to the allowed activities mean that businesses will need to obtain work passes to allow their employees to perform activities previously permitted on the work pass exemption.

Background: Singapore allows foreign nationals to enter the country and obtain a short-term visit pass and conduct certain activities with a work pass exemption for up to 60 days per visit, depending on the duration of the short-term visit pass. Recent changes made by the Ministry of Manpower now limit the use of the work pass exemption to a cumulative 90 days in a calendar year. Therefore, a foreign national can use the work pass exemption for the maximum 60 days once and then return at another time for an additional 30 days. Previously, the policy was not clear and foreign nationals could use the exemption for the maximum stay several times during the course of the year before drawing scrutiny from immigration officers. Companies must now obtain an appropriate work pass for their employees who will be performing activities eligible for the work pass exemption for more than 90 days in a calendar year.

The Ministry of Manpower has also changed the activities allowed under the “Specialised Services related to a New Plant / Operation / Equipment” category of work permit exempt activities to disallow software installation. The work pass exemption can still be used for the commissioning or auditing of any new plant and equipment and also for installing, dismantling, transferring, repairing or performing maintenance of any machine or equipment.

BAL Analysis: The new limitations may cause difficulties for companies that do not have a branch office in Singapore able to sponsor the work passes and may increase the burdens associated with doing business in Singapore for many companies. These changes are in line with the steady tightening of the foreign labor market in Singapore over the past several years.

This alert had been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in Singapore. For additional information, please contact singapore@balglobal.com.

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