Our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once famously said that “foreign talents are like the megabytes that you add to your storage capacity.” Our success in the past was attributed to our ability to attract top talent into our country. However, since 2015, the government has adopted a Singaporean First policy which has earned the wrath of the business community both in Singapore and abroad.
In a March 2015, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, expressed concerns that Singapore’s anti-immigration laws will cause labour and talent shortages in Singapore.
In December 2016, Asad Jumabhoy CEO at The Scotts Group, said that foreigners who are better educated should be allowed to compete with locals for jobs.
But there is no letting up – Lim Swee Say has imposed a blockade of visas for Indian IT professionals to work in Singapore and it has sparked a reaction in India, with New Delhi reviewing a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), citing violation of the trade pact between both nations.
Singapore’s immigration stance is in the same grain as the Trump Administration and the political forces that pushed for Brexit from the EU. US President Donald Trump rose to prominence through his campaign rhetoric of “Buy American and hire American.” He also pressed the notion of “America first” in all his policies.
Though Singapore has not officially gone that far in stating that it will be ‘Singapore first” when it comes to job fulfilment, the trend in the IT sector seems to indicate that there is an effective policy in place to give preference to locals.
Times of India (TOI) said visas for IT professionals to work in Singapore have dropped “to a trickle”.
It said Indian companies were being advised to hire local talent, and now they are looking at relocating some of their operations to other countries in the region.
From HCL and TCS, which were the early movers to Singapore, the list has expanded to include Infosys, Wipro, Cognizant and L&T Infotech.
This situation has been lingering since early-2016, “Indian companies have received communication on fair consideration, which basically means hiring local people,” TOI said, quoting company bosses in Singapore.
The Indian government response to this is to go against expanding the scope of goods where import duties would be cut unless the concerns of domestic industry are addressed.
Sources told TOI that Singapore authorities were insisting on what is called “economic needs test” (ENT), which requires compliance with certain economic criteria, to deny access to Indian professionals.
Many business leaders have commented that the current government has become too conservative and populist and no longer has the persuasiveness of the founding fathers of Singapore.