Singapore—While the Singapore economy shrank by as much as 5.4 per cent in 2020, a hefty stimulus package from the government cushioned the jobs of most locals and the fallout was felt most severely by Singapore’s foreign workforce.
A total of 181,500 foreigners, or 12.7 per cent of the foreign workforce, lost their jobs in Singapore last year, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) points out. Singapore was not unique. Many foreigners in Hong Kong, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates also lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
SCMP asks if the foreigners who lost their jobs gone for good from Singapore.
They may be needed again.
A manpower crunch could occur when Singapore’s economy improves, SCMP quotes OCBC economist Selene Ling as saying.
But a tighter job market in Singapore is “desirable” for the “near future” as it would encourage employers to consider Singaporeans first before hiring foreigners, said former NCMP Prof Walter Theseira, an economist from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.
However, in the long run, experts say, Singapore needs foreign talent to remain competitive.
Even Prof Theseira is quoted in the SCMP as saying there is “no way” for the workforce to survive without immigration.
“Fertility is simply too low, and most Singaporeans who are able to work are already in the labour force,” he said.
SCMP also quotes an economist at the Yale-NUS College, Deng Liuchun, as enumerating the benefits of having foreign workers, including “cross-border connections, business know-how, scientific insights, and cultural diversity,” which all help make Singapore a global city.
He added that high-skilled workers may have some hesitancy in coming back to Singapore as “people see the risk of working for a city-state where a pandemic may translate into a real economic tsunami”.
An option for some companies is to make work remote and give employees a “work-from-anywhere” option, which means that workers can be employed in Singapore without ever setting foot there.
According to Irvin Seah, an economist with DBS, this “is an opportunity to reduce reliance on foreign workers”.
Singapore’s success in managing the Covid pandemic may still make it attractive to foreign talent in the years to come. SCMP cites the regional global mobility lead for Asia Pacific at consulting firm Mercer, Ms Julia Radchenko, as saying she believes foreign talent will return, in a large part because of this.
She added that the US is no longer people’s top pic for remote work, but “countries that have managed the coronavirus relatively well such as Japan, Singapore and New Zealand, have enjoyed a popularity boost.”
Prof Theseira echoed this, saying, “Because of our wages, career opportunities, and high standard of living, there is excess supply of foreign manpower interested in moving to Singapore for work.”
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