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Economy

Singapore offers tech visas to talent that earns $15,000 monthly

But city-state tightens requirements on lower-tiered foreign workers

Singapore initially will admit 500 foreigners through its Tech.Pass visa program. (Photo by Takashi Nakano)

SINGAPORE -- Singapore has debuted a work visa designed to attract top talent in technology fields, as the city-state reshapes its foreign workforce in hopes of developing into a tech hub.

Applicants for the new Tech.Pass program must fulfill two out of three requirements to qualify, including providing proof of earning a monthly salary of at least 20,000 Singapore dollars ($15,145) over the past year. The visas last for two years before they need to be renewed.

The government has opened applications for 500 spots since Jan. 19. The arrivals are expected to include successful entrepreneurs and experts in artificial intelligence and data analysis.

Tech.Pass holders will be afforded a high level of freedom. While regular professional visas restrict a person to designated employers, those in the new program can start businesses or become an employee or adviser to multiple companies.

Singapore seeks the technical expertise and networking capabilities of these individuals, and the new businesses and cutting-edge services that may result would produce a multitude of jobs.

"The Tech.Pass seems to be a great initiative to attract founders and will hopefully ensure that Singapore ... can compete on a global stage for the best talent and companies," said Julian Artope, a German national who came to the city-state to launch a startup.

The small country's own college graduates cannot meet the vast demand for tech talent.

"There is a clear shortage of human resources well-versed in AI and other leading-edge technology," said the chief of the Southeast Asian arm for a multinational tech group.

Singapore expects Tech.Pass holders to play a leading role in lifting the technical prowess of the domestic workforce.

Meanwhile, Singapore is narrowing opportunities for lower-tiered foreign workers, saying last week that it will cut visa quotas for the manufacturing sector. Businesses have been able to draw 20% of employees from the S Pass, given to midtier workers. But that ratio drops to 18% in January 2022 and 15% in January 2023.

Protecting jobs against the pandemic-induced economic downturn was the hot topic during Singapore's general election last July. This year, it appears that officials look to retain people who will adapt the country to the post-coronavirus digital world.

"We must remember our competitiveness comes from our ability to aggregate talent from across the world to complement ours," said Chan Chun Sing, minister for trade and industry. "The real competition is never within Singapore but beyond Singapore with the rest of the world."

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