Singapore is a highly sought-after destination for foreign workers due to its thriving economy and favorable working conditions. However, working in Singapore as a foreigner requires a valid work permit or work pass. The commonly-heard work permit is in fact a category of work pass in Singapore.
While these permits are intended for foreign workers, there are several differences between them that are worth noticing and keeping in mind.
In this article, we will explore the differences between a work permit and other work passes in Singapore, including their eligibility criteria, types of work allowed, the application process, renewal and cancellation, and rights and obligations of holders.
What are these Singapore work passes?
The term “work permit” and “work pass” are often used interchangeably, as they refer to employment visas that allow foreigners to work in Singapore, issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
A work permit caters to the needs of semi-skilled workers who intend to relocate to Singapore to work, whereas other work passes such as Employment Pass are usually meant for professionals with high-level qualifications, entrepreneurs, executives, or technicians with mid-level skills.
Work permits are typically issued to semi-skilled or unskilled foreign workers in certain industries. Work permits are required for all foreign workers, except those who are permanent residents or those who hold specific work visa/ work pass types such as Employment Pass, S Pass, etc.
The work permit is issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and is required for foreigners who wish to work in Singapore as laborers or domestic workers.
Want to read more about Singapore work permit’s features as well as the requirements to be issued yours? Visit our dedicated article now!
Other work passes
A work pass in Singapore is also a legal document that authorizes a foreigner who is either a high-skilled, well-paid professional or a high-net-worth entrepreneur to work in Singapore.
The particular work pass type issued to you will depend on the applicant’s qualifications, work experience, and salary. To name a few, several common types of work pass in Singapore are Employment Pass, S Pass, Personalized Employment Pass, EntrePass, etc.
The Employment Pass is the most common for foreign professionals, managers, and executives. Or you can consider the S Pass for mid-level skilled workers who earn at least SGD 3,000 a month.
Work passes are subject to various requirements, including a quota system, levies, and minimum salary requirements. Employers must also comply with a variety of regulations related to hiring foreign workers, including the fair treatment of workers and workplace safety standards.
The differences between a work permit and a work pass in Singapore
As many of you might still need clarification about what distinguishes a work permit from other types of work pass in Singapore, here is the necessary information you should know before applying for these legal documents.
Who requires a work permit?
A work permit is intended for foreign semi-skilled or unskilled workers from approved Asian countries in industries such as construction, manufacturing, marine, and services.
Some common types of work permit that a foreigner could apply for include:
- Work permit for migrant domestic workers (MDWs): issued to foreign domestic workers who work in Singapore households
- Work permit for migrant workers: issued to migrant workers in the construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard, process, or services sector
- Work permit for confinement nannies: issued to Malaysians employed as confinement nannies in Singapore
- Work Permit for performing artists: required for foreign entertainers working in eligible public entertainment outlets
Who requires other types of work passes?
Several work passes are often intended for foreign professionals, managers, executives, and skilled workers. The worker’s educational qualifications and work experience are also taken into account when applying for a work pass.
- Employment Pass (EP): This work pass is for foreign professionals, managers, executives, and specialists with a salary of at least SGD 4,500 per month (SGD 5,000 for financial services) who meet the eligibility requirements.
- S Pass: This work pass is for mid-level skilled workers with a salary of at least SGD 3,000 per month (SGD 3,500 for financial services) who meet the relevant eligibility criteria.
- Personalised Employment Pass (PEP): for high-earning professionals who have a fixed salary of at least SGD 12,000 per month (existing EP holders) or SGD 18,000 per month (overseas foreign professionals) and meet the relevant eligibility criteria.
- EntrePass: Designed for foreign entrepreneurs who wish to start and run venture-backed or technologically advanced companies in Singapore.
From 1 September 2023, there will be a raise in the minimum salary of work pass holders, particularly:
- EP: SGD 5,000 per month (SGD 5,500 for financial services)
- S Pass: SGD 3,150 per month (SGD 3,650 for financial services)
- PEP: SGD 22,500 per month
Foreign workers can apply for their passes by themselves, through their employer, or an authorized employment agent.
There are certain criteria the employer might be expected to meet, such as registering a business in Singapore and demonstrating real demand for foreign workers. Along with meeting particular requirements, the foreign worker must also possess specific qualifications and work experience.
Curious about other passes and permits available in Singapore? Visit the Ministry of Manpower’s site to find out more.
The work permit is usually valid for two years, depending on the validity of the worker’s passport, the security bond, and the length of his or her employment, whichever is shorter. The validity period depends on the work sector and can range from six months to two years.
The employers are responsible for obtaining work permits for their foreign employees and ensuring that they comply with all Singaporean employment laws and regulations.
The validity period of a work pass does determine how long a foreign worker can stay in Singapore to some extent. Once the employer no longer employs them or when the passes expire, the employer must cancel their work permit within 1 week after the last day of departure notice or 1 day after the Work Permit expires.
Meanwhile, the validity period for other work passes is usually between one to two years and can be renewed after that. Particularly:
- Employment Pass (EP): The EP is usually issued for up to 2 years for first-time candidates and can be renewed up to 3 years thereafter.
- S Pass: The S Pass is usually issued for up to two years and up to 3 years for renewals.
- Personalized Employment Pass (PEP): The PEP is usually issued for up to three years and is not tied to a specific employer, but it is nonrenewable.
- EntrePass: The EntrePass is subject to specific eligibility criteria and is issued for up to 1 year for a new pass and the first renewal, then 2 years for subsequent renewals.
In Singapore, there are quota restrictions on the number of foreign workers that companies can hire. These quotas are meant to ensure that Singaporean citizens and permanent residents have access to employment opportunities and to maintain a balanced workforce.
The foreign worker quota for work permit holders differs depending on the industry. Generally, companies in the manufacturing, construction, marine, and process sectors are subject to a higher quota than those in the services sector.
The number of work permit holders you can hire is limited by a quota (or dependency ratio ceiling, DRC) and subject to a levy. For instance, the DRC for the services sector is 35%. Hiring close to the maximum quota will result in higher levy rates.
On the other hand, the main work pass types that are subject to restrictions are the Employment Pass (EP) and the S Pass. The quota system is administered by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), and the quotas are based on the company’s industry and size.
The current quota limits are as follows:
- Employment Pass: There is no quota restriction for Employment Pass holders, but the company must follow specific procedures in advance, such as advertising the job on MyCareersFuture and considering all candidates fairly (this also applies to S Pass).
- S Pass: Companies are allowed to employ foreign workers on S Passes as long as the percentage of S Pass holders in their workforce does not exceed 10% for the Services sector; 15% for the construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard, and process sector.
The quotas are reviewed periodically and may be adjusted based on the needs of the local workforce and the economy. Companies that exceed their quota limits may face penalties or have their work pass privileges revoked.
The employer is responsible for the foreign worker’s health and safety under both work pass and work permit. However, employers who hire work permit holders are required to provide them with medical insurance coverage, while employers who hire work pass holders are not required to do so.
It is the employer’s responsibility to purchase and maintain medical insurance coverage of at least SGD 15,000 per year for each worker with a work permit or an S Pass.
Aside from ensuring proper housing for migrant workers, employers must provide the Ministry of Manpower with the workers’ residential addresses as well.
Applying for the work permit/ work pass for foreign employees and ensuring that all necessary documents and requirements are met is a must. This includes providing accurate information about the job position, salary, and employment terms.
Employers are typically required to:
- Maintain accurate records of employees, including their work pass details, validity, personal information, and employment history. These records should be kept up-to-date and made available to government authorities upon request.
- Pay levies and fees related to hiring foreign workers, including foreign worker levies, skill development levies, etc.
- Ensure workplace safety and health for their foreign employees and comply with all relevant safety and health regulations.
- Pay salaries and benefits as stated in the employment contract, in compliance with Singapore’s employment laws.
- Adhere to employment laws including those related to working hours, leave entitlements, and termination of employment.
- Report changes in the work visa details of foreign employees to MOM promptly, such as when there are changes to the job position or salary.
The application process for a work pass and work permit is similar, but the requirements differ. Employers need to apply for both permits on behalf of the foreign worker. The application process involves submitting the necessary documents and paying the application fee.
Here are the general steps:
- Step 1: Check if the foreign employee is eligible for the pass.
- Step 2: Submit an application online to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
- Step 3: The MOM will process the application and may request additional documents if needed.
- Step 4: If approved, the MOM will issue an In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter, the validity of which will be mentioned in the letter
- Step 5: The foreign employee must come to Singapore to complete the formalities (e.g. fingerprinting and photo-taking) within the validity period stated in the IPA letter and get the pass issued.
The processing time for an application is about one to two months, depending on the type of pass and whether additional documents or information are required. The processing time for a work pass is usually faster than a work permit, as there are more strict requirements.
Applicants and employers may experience different application processes and requirements based on their individual circumstances, so don’t hesitate to ask for advice from local experts.
Rights & Obligations
The rights and obligations of a Singapore work permit holder and others differ in several ways. Here are some key details you should be aware of:
- Employment Pass or S Pass holders may have the right to bring their family members to Singapore on a dependant’s pass or long-term visit pass, whereas work permit holders do not.
- Holders of work passes such as EP or S Pass can travel in and out of Singapore without the need for a separate entry visa.
- Work pass holders are more likely to be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship than work permit holders.
- Holders of an Employment Pass or S Pass are typically subject to stricter eligibility criteria and conditions compared to work permit holders.
- Employment Pass holders are required to fulfill any conditions or requirements stipulated on their work pass, such as training or educational qualifications.
- Work permit holders have more restrictions on their work, as they are typically only allowed to work in specific sectors and at certain skill levels, whereas Employment Pass and S Pass holders may have more flexibility in terms of their job scope.
In summary, holders of an EP or S Pass generally have more rights and privileges than work permit holders, but they also have stricter eligibility criteria and obligations to fulfill. Work permit holders, on the other hand, may have more restrictions on their work but less stringent eligibility criteria and responsibilities to fulfill.
Below is a comparison table highlighting the differences between a work permit and other work passes for your reference:
|Features||Work permit||Other work passes|
|Eligibility|| || |
|Common types||Work permits: || |
|Validity|| || |
|Quota restrictions||A dependency ratio ceiling (DRC) limits how many work permit holders you can hire (e.g. 35% for the Service sector)||The percentage of S Pass holders does not exceed: |
|Rights|| || |
|Obligations|| || |
In summary, a work permit, a type of work pass, is intended for foreign semi-skilled or unskilled workers, while other work passes are for professionals with specialized skills and knowledge.
Other work passes in Singapore typically have no quota restriction, are more stringent with requirements, and are faster to process compared to work permits. The application process for both permits is similar, but the eligibility and validity periods differ.
To ensure proper guidance, it is imperative to seek the advice of local specialists or trustworthy professionals beforehand. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for further information via the chatbox or drop a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: While BBCIncorp strives to make the information on this website as timely and accurate as possible, the information itself is for reference purposes only. You should not substitute the information provided in this article for competent legal advice. Feel free to contact BBCIncorp’s customer services for advice on your specific cases.
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