How to Hire Foreign Workers in Singapore

Last updated on January 21, 2019

The employment of foreign workers in Singapore is closely regulated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in Singapore. This article aims to provide a broad overview for employers intending to employ foreign workers in Singapore.

If you are looking for information pertaining to the employment of foreign domestic workers in Singapore, please refer to our other article instead.

When is a Work Pass Required?

Certain activities such as performing and the organising of conferences can be undertaken in Singapore for short durations under a Short Term Visit Pass. However, the MOM must still be notified before the commencement of such activity.

In all other cases, non-residents must hold a valid work pass before they can work in Singapore.

Application for a Work Pass

All non-domestic foreign workers must be at least 18 years old to be a work pass holder. Additionally, they must be below 58 years old and 50 years old for Malaysians and non-Malaysians, respectively.

The type of work pass that should be applied for depends on the foreign worker’s skill level, which is generally categorised as follows:

  1. Unskilled and semi-skilled
  2. Mid-level skilled
  3. Professional, managers and executives.

(i) Work permit

Requirements

A Work Permit for foreign worker is meant for unskilled or semi-skilled foreign workers in the construction, manufacturing, marine, process, or services sector.

In addition, the foreign worker must come from one of the MOM’s specified source countries, which vary by sector. More information on approved source countries and additional sector-specific requirements may be found here.

Duration of validity and renewal

The Work Permit is valid for up to 2 years, subject to validity of the worker’s passport, security bond, and employment period. During the validity period, the worker is only permitted to work for the specified employer, and in the specified occupation.

The Work Permit is renewable. This should be done six to eight weeks before the end of the validity period. More information on renewing a Work Permit is available here.

Procedure

Step Requirements Outcome
1. Employer/EA submits an application
  • Written consent from the foreign worker to apply for Work Permit
  • Fill out application on WP Online
  • $30 application fee
  • Check status of application online after 1 week
In-principle approval or rejection letter
2. Employer/EA prepares for worker’s arrival Prior to worker’s arrival:

  • Purchase security bond (for non-Malaysian workers)
  • Purchase medical insurance for worker

After worker’s arrival:

Security bond, insurance, etc.
3. Employer/EA gets the permit issued
  • Make the request on WP Online
  • Pay $30 per issued Work Permit
  • Print notification letter, which is valid for 1 month from date of issue and should be given to the foreign worker to facilitate travel while waiting for the Work Permit card
  • Take note if worker has to report to MOM Services Centre – Hall C to register fingerprints and photograph.
Notification letter
4. Candidate registers fingerprints and photograph (if required)
  • Worker has to register within 1 week after pass is issued (if required)
  • Make an appointment for the registration
  • Take note of items worker should bring: original passport, appointment letter, notification letter and documents specified in the letter
Acknowledgement of card delivery
5. Employer or authorised recipients receive the card
  • Work Permit card will be delivered to the given address 4 working days after registration
Work Permit card
6. Employer returns old card (if any)
  • Worker’s old pass card (if any) must be posted back to the Work Pass Division of the Ministry of Manpower
Use WP Online to confirm MOM received old card

More information on applying for a work permit is available here.

(ii) S Pass

Requirements

An S Pass is meant for mid-level skilled technical staff, who earn a fixed monthly salary of at least $2,200 a month and meet the eligibility criteria. The salary has to reflect work experience, with older and more experienced applicants requiring higher salaries to qualify. A degree or diploma is required. Technical certificates from courses for specialists or qualified technicians may be considered, provided that they include at least 1 year of full-time study. Employers may use the Self-Assessment Tool (SAT) to check if the applicant qualifies for the S Pass.

An employer or appointed employment agent must apply for the S Pass on behalf of the applicant. 

Duration of validity and renewal

The S Pass is valid for up to 2 years, subject to validity of the worker’s passport, security bond, and employment period. During the validity period, the worker is only permitted to work for the specified employer, and in the specified occupation. Should the pass holder change jobs, the new employer would be required to apply for a new pass.

The S Pass is renewable. This can be done up to 6 months before the pass expires. The renewed pass may be valid for up to 3 years, subject to validity of the worker’s passport. More information on renewing an S Pass is available here.

Procedure

Step Requirements Outcome
1. Employer/EA submits an application
  • Written consent from the foreign worker to apply for S Pass
  • Fill out application on EP Online
  • $60 application fee
  • Check status of application online after 3 weeks
  • If pass is approved, log in to EP Online and print the in-principle approval (IPA) letter
In-principle approval or rejection letter
2. Employer/EA gets the pass issued
  • Make the request on EP Online
  • Pay $80 per issued pass
  • Print notification letter, which is valid for 1 month from date of issue and should be given to the candidate to facilitate travel while waiting for the pass card
  • Take note if candidate has to report to MOM Services Centre – Hall C to register fingerprints and photograph.
Notification letter
3. Candidate registers fingerprints and photograph (if required)
  • Candidate has to register within 1 week after pass is issued (if required)
  • Make an appointment for the registration
  • Take note of items candidate should bring: original passport, appointment letter, notification letter, documents specified in the IPA and notification letters
Acknowledgement of card delivery
4. Authorised recipients or candidate receive(s) the card
  • S Pass card will be delivered to the given address 4 working days after registration
S Pass card
5. Employer returns old card (if any)
  • Candidate’s old pass card (if any) must be posted back to the Work Pass Division of the Ministry of Manpower
Use EP Online to confirm MOM received old card

More information on applying for an S Pass is available here.

(iii) Employment Pass

Requirements 

An Employment Pass is meant for foreign professionals, managers, and executives with a job offer in Singapore. Candidates need to earn at least $3,600 a month and meet the eligibility criteria, which require a good university degree, professional qualifications, or specialist skills. The salary has to reflect work experience, with older and more experienced applicants requiring higher salaries to qualify. Employers may use the Self-Assessment Tool (SAT) to check if the applicant qualifies for the pass.

An employer or appointed employment agent must apply for the Employment Pass on behalf of the applicant.

Duration of validity and renewal

For first-time candidates, the Employment Pass is valid for up to 2 years, subject to validity of the worker’s passport, security bond, and employment period. During the validity period, the worker is only permitted to work for the specified employer. Should the pass holder change jobs, the new employer would be required to apply for a new pass.

The Employment Pass is renewable. This can be done up to 6 months before the pass expires, and must be done before the expiry date. The renewed pass may be valid for up to 3 years. The duration of the renewed pass is not affected by the length of validity of the worker’s passport. More information on renewing an Employment Pass is available here.

Procedure

Step Requirements Outcome
1. Employer/EA submits an application
  • Written consent from the candidate to apply for Employment Pass
  • Fill out application on EP Online
  • $70 application fee
  • Check status of application online after 3 weeks
  • If pass is approved, log in to EP Online and print the in-principle approval (IPA) letter
In-principle approval or rejection letter

 

2. Employer/EA gets the pass issued
  • Make the request on EP Online within 6 months of IPA
  • Pay $150 per issued pass, and $30 per Multiple Journey Visa (if applicable)
  • Print notification letter, which is valid for 1 month from date of issue and should be given to the candidate to facilitate travel while waiting for the pass card
  • Take note if candidate has to register fingerprints and photograph.
Notification letter
3. Candidate registers fingerprints and photograph (if required)
  • Candidate has to register within 2 weeks after pass is issued (if required)
  • Make an appointment for the candidate to visit the Employment Pass Services Centre (EPSC).
  • Take note of items candidate should bring: original passport, appointment letter, notification letter, documents specified in the IPA and notification letters
Acknowledgement of card delivery
4. Authorised recipients or candidate receive(s) the card
  • Employment Pass card will be delivered to the given address 4 working days after registration
Employment Pass card
5. Employer returns old card (if any)
  • Candidate’s old pass card (if any) must be posted back to the Work Pass Division of the Ministry of Manpower
Use EP Online to confirm MOM received old card

More information on applying for an Employment Pass is available here.

(iv) Personalised Employment Pass

Requirements

A Personalised Employment Pass is meant for high-earning Employment Pass holders or overseas foreign professionals. It is not tied to an employer, and offers more flexibility than an Employment Pass. Current Employment Pass holders need to earn at least $12,000 a month, while overseas foreign professionals need to earn at least $18,000 a month. The eligibility criteria must be met.
The candidate is to apply for the Personalised Employment Pass directly.

Duration of validity and renewal

The Personalised Employment Pass is valid for up to 3 years. It is issued only once, and is not renewable.

Employers may wish to refer to the MOM’s Pass Navigator to ascertain the type of work pass required.

Procedure

Step Requirements Outcome
1. Candidate submits an application
  • Complete the Personalised Employment Pass Application Form and relevant documents
  • Submit the completed application at any SingPost branch
  • $70 application fee
  • After 8 weeks, if pass is approved, an in-principle approval (IPA) letter will be mailed to the Singapore address provided in the application.
In-principle approval or rejection letter

 

2. Candidate/EA gets the pass issued
  • Make the request on EP Online within 6 months of IPA, or request for the pass over the counter at the Employment Pass Services Centre (EPSC).
  • Pay $150 per issued pass, and $30 per Multiple Journey Visa (if applicable)
  • Print notification letter, which allows the candidate to travel while waiting for the pass card
  • Take note if candidate has to register fingerprints and photograph.
Notification letter
3. Candidate registers fingerprints and photograph (if required)
  • Candidate has to register within 2 weeks after pass is issued (if required)
  • Make an appointment to visit the Employment Pass Services Centre (EPSC).
  • Take note of items candidate should bring: original passport, appointment letter, notification letter, documents specified in the IPA and notification letters
Acknowledgement of card delivery
4. Authorised recipients or candidate receive(s) the card
  • PEP card will be delivered to the given address 4 working days after registration
PEP card
5. Candidate returns old card (if any)
  • Candidate’s old pass card (if any) must be posted back to the Work Pass Division of the Ministry of Manpower
Use EP Online to confirm MOM received old card

 More information on applying for a Personalised Employment Pass is available here. 

Employer’s Obligations

Compliance with the Employment Act and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act

The Employment Act sets the minimum standard for issues including, but not limited to, salary, working hours, and retrenchment benefits. Foreign employees under a contract of service with an employer are covered by the Employment Act, except for:

  1. Persons employed in a managerial or executive position (PMEs) with a monthly basic salary of more than $4,500,
  2. Seafarers,
  3. Domestic workers, and
  4. Persons employed by a Statutory Board or the Government.

For these groups of individuals, employment issues are governed by the terms of the employment contract.

Employers who wish to hire foreign workers who are covered by the Employment Act should note that Part IV of the Act, which provides for rest days, hours of work, annual leave, and other conditions of service, applies only to workmen earning a basic monthly salary of $4,500 or less, and employees (who are not workmen or PMEs) earning a basic monthly salary of $2,500 or less. Refer to our other article for more information on how to determine if a foreign worker is covered by Part IV of the Act.

The Employment of Foreign Manpower Act covers all foreign employees who hold a work pass, including holders of Work Permits, S Passes, and the Employment Pass. The Act outlines the relevant obligations involved in hiring a foreign employee. Information on specific obligations by type of work pass is available below.

Obligations by Type of Work Pass

(i) Work Permit

Employers and Work Permit holders are required to comply with requirements stipulated here.

Employers are required to pay the monthly foreign worker levy for each worker. Levy rates vary depending on the workers’ skills and qualifications and the industry sector. Instructions on calculating levies are available here.

Employers are to hire no more than the permitted number of foreign workers according to the quota system. Quotas vary depending on the industry. Each industry has its own Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC), under which the maximum number of foreign workers an employer can hire is calculated as a percentage of the maximum total workforce allowed. Employers may wish to use this free quota calculator to calculate the number of Work Permit holders they are permitted to hire under the quota system. Detailed guidelines on calculating levies and quotas are available here.

A $5,000 security bond has to be purchased by the employer for each non-Malaysian worker, prior to the worker’s arrival in Singapore. Employers are required to pay workers the fixed monthly salary declared to the MOM, within 7 days of the end of the month. Employers also have to foot the cost of upkeep and maintenance, including the cost of medical treatment.

Employers are required to purchase and maintain medical insurance for each worker to cover in-patient care and surgery costs, and to send workers for a medical examination by a Singapore-registered doctor. If they are certified medically unfit, their Work Permit will be revoked.

Employers have to ensure that their workers live in acceptable housing, pursuant to the Employment of the Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA). The workers’ residential addresses must be provided to the MOM. The various types of approved housing for foreign workers are listed here. Information on the different requirements that apply to each type of housing and the regulatory approvals to be obtained may be found here. For a list of foreign worker dormitories that have been licensed in accordance with the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA), click here.

(ii) S Pass

Employers are required to pay the salaries of S Pass holders using electronic payment methods such as GIRO or funds transfers. Electronic payments must begin within 3 months after issuance of the S Pass. A record of the salary payments must be maintained. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in fines or prosecution of the employer, and may affect future work pass applications. More information on paying the salaries of S Pass holders is available here.

Employers must buy and maintain medical insurance for S Pass holders throughout the duration of employment. The insurance coverage must be minimally $15,000 a year, and cover inpatient care and day surgery. Insurance details have to be submitted online before a pass is issued or renewed, and when insurance details change.

The number of S Pass holders an employer may hire is limited by a quota, which varies depending on the sector. A quota calculator is available here. Employers have to pay the foreign worker levy for all S Pass holders. The levy liability begins from the date of issue of the S Pass, and ends when the pass expires or is cancelled. Detailed guidelines on calculating quotas and levies are available here.

(iii) Employment Pass

The number of Employment Pass holders an employer may hire is not limited by a quota. Employers also need not pay the foreign worker levy for Employment Pass holders.

Employers have the option of providing medical insurance for Employment Pass holders, although this is not compulsory.

Crucially, employers should take note of the Fair Consideration Framework, which outlines the Government’s expectations for companies to consider Singaporeans fairly for job opportunities. Since 1 August 2014, employers have been required to advertise the job opening on Workforce Singapore Agency’s MyCareersFuture job portal (previously known as Jobs Bank) prior to submission of an Employment Pass application. The advertisement must be open to Singaporeans, comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, and run for a minimum of 14 calendar days before application for the Employment Pass. The full requirements are available here.

Employers who fail to comply with the Tripartite Guidelines may have their work pass privileges curtailed, and could be barred from making work pass applications.

(iv) Personalised Employment Pass

Candidate’s obligations

To continue holding a Personalised Employment Pass, the candidate must not be unemployed for more than 6 months at any time, must earn a fixed salary of minimally $144,000 per calendar year, and must notify the MOM of changes in job, contact details, and annual fixed salary. More information is available here.

No foreign worker levy or quota is required.