Why Does Singapore Import Foreign Talents When Singaporeans Are So Educated & Smart?

Recently the Ministry of Manpower updated its Fair Consideration Framework with stricter penalties for companies which discriminate against Singaporeans during hiring.

Stricter penalties on companies not giving Singaporeans fair consideration

The minimum period of work pass debarment has increased from 6 months to 12 months. For worse cases, the debarment period can be up to a maximum of 24 months. This includes work pass renewals too.

Mrs Josephine Teo (Manpower Minister) said that as most work passes are valid for 2 to 3 years, a 12-month debarment means companies cannot renew or replace around a third to half of their foreign workforce.

Companies given a 24-month ban cannot renew up to all of the firm’s work passes. They also cannot hire new foreign workers in the 24 months, which means they will have to hire locals to continue their operations.

Five companies have been penalised under the new regulations — Nihon Premium Clinic, Meyer Burger (Singapore), Tarantula Global Holdings, Meow Services and Ti2 Logistics.

Fair consideration framework

The issue of discrimination against Singaporeans (even after the Fair Consideration Framework was launched) has been brought up repeatedly by Labour MP Patrick Tay every year since he became an MP in 2011.


Which brings up the question — why are companies still adamant about hiring foreign talent (hence importing FTs into Singapore) when Singaporeans are so educated and smart? After all we do top PISA rankings regularly right?

Why does Singapore import foreign talents when Singaporeans are so educated and smart?

The below is an answer to the question above that I found on Quora. Written by KH Lee, a Singaporean who describes himself as ‘I try to be different’, this answer has a thousand or so upvotes.

He seems pretty young, having graduated in 2011 and joined 3 foreign companies in the IT sector before switching to the public service.

Here’s my story from the IT sector.

I graduated from NTU in 2011 and joined a foreign company.

Out of 10 of my Singaporean classmates, 9 of them joined the public service because of higher starting pay.

6 years down the road, they are still with the first place they joined. I’ve been to 3 different foreign companies.

It was only recently I have had what the locals call an “itchy backside” that I decided to join the government and give a try to be a good public servant.

I thought that if all my friends could make it, it won’t be too hard for me, right?

Public service gave him a culture shock.

Long story short – I went in, got a culture shock like most people before me, and decide to resign after a short 3 months.

On the day of my resignation, a few of my colleagues came to me and ask me where I was going. I said some small tech product company, nothing fancy.

The context here for you to understand is that I went from a foreign tech consulting firm in the banking sector which has foreign bosses, to a statutory board environment where everyone is a born and bred Singaporean.

He says public servants have ‘no clue what goes on outside of the government sector.’.

When I left the foreign firm and I told my ex-colleagues (who are mostly foreigners) that I’m working for the government, it made sense to them as they’ve heard of how it is like working for the government – the pay package, benefits, which is horrible by the way. The only good thing is to expect a 3.5 month bonus if you and the Singapore economy don’t screw up too badly.

When I quit my government job and told my colleague where I was going, most of them didn’t quite grasp what I would be doing or heard of the company I’m going to. It seemed so foreign to them where I come from and going to that I have to use a very degrading industry term that they always used – “vendor”.

In other words, they’ve lived in that ecosystem for so long they don’t know what’s available out in the market.

They don’t know the difference between a product company and an implementation partner. To them, every external service provider is a “vendor”.

They’ve been a “customer” for so long that they don’t know how the IT industry works.

And I’m not just talking about the old guards – even those with the same amount of experience as me as well. They simple have no clue what goes on outside of the government sector.

He points out education and smarts ‘doesn’t mean shit in the industry’.

So this brings me back to my personal anecdote.

You wanna know where are all the Singaporean IT graduates?

Probably 7 out of 10 are working in the government service, sitting in their nice little desk sourcing for childcare for their next child, and planning their next trip to Greece.

Sure, they’re smart, they’re educated, they’re well-traveled and well-spoken, but they lack the exposure to the industry.

Being educated and smart doesn’t mean shit in the industry. There is no course in school that tells you what kind of technology stack a company is using. You have to get in to know that.

So if you are an MNC trying to set up shop in Singapore, what kind of person would you hire? You would hire someone from the industry, which in many cases, unfortunately, are foreigners.

Don’t ask why they always hire foreigners. Ask how you can get in.

This guy also hit a nail in the head among all the answers here.

The question assumes that Singapore is filled with local enterprises who hire foreigners over locals.

In reality, Singapore is filled with MNCs who have to send their own people here to set up shop, and then try to hire locally. But by the time they get there, they couldn’t find a suitable Singaporean candidate at the managerial level because all of us are happily planning our next holiday to the Scandinavia in our nice little public service bubble.

I cannot count the number of times I encourage someone to step out to join an MNC over a local firm or government service. At every opportunity I get, without a moment of hesitation, I would tell you to just get into any company not run by Singaporeans.

Guess how many times my advice is taken?

I guess people in our local enterprise heed the same advice as well. If you want to build a truly competitive global business, try to get someone with an exposure to the global market. If they thought along that line, I’m sure they would have considered certain Singaporeans but decided that none fits the profile.

Btw, it doesn’t matter who the CEO is, it only matters who the directors are. You can sack the CEO anytime but you need the directors to control the direction of the company. As long as the board is made up of Singaporeans, and it is, nobody gives a shit.

If you are still asking a question like that and still holding that world view, I suggest you get off Quora now and start working on your resume. Don’t ask why they always hire foreigners. Ask how you can get in.

Featured photo: Middle Ground

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  1. low chai yeong says:

    Interesting article. But marred by verbosity and vehemence. Painful to read. U should marshall your arguments in simple language without the verbiage. Use LKY as the model.

    1. Good advice, could you write an example here using this topic?

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