SINGAPORE, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- The number of foreigners working in Singapore on employment passes has fallen for the first time since 2003, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin wrote in a blog post on Thursday.
The number of employment pass (EP) holders fell to 173,800 in December 2012, after steadily increasing from 99,200 in 2007 to 175,400 in late 2011, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Manpower.
The employment passes are issued to foreigners who earn a fixed monthly salary of no less than 3,000 Singapore dollars and "have acceptable qualifications," according to the ministry.
TIGHTER FOREIGN LABOR POLICIES
The fall in the number of employment pass holders "is likely in part due to the tighter EP framework from January 2012," Tan wrote in a post on the ministry's blog.
Singapore raised the salary threshold and put in place stricter requirements for educational and other qualifications over the past two years since around a general election in May 2011, when the immigration and foreign labor policies became a hot topic of discussion.
It was obviously more difficult for foreigners to get employment passes over the past two years. It was not unusual, either, for foreigners to have their employment pass renewal applications rejected or have their passes downgraded.
The number of holders of S Passes, which are meant for mid- skilled workers, went up from 113,900 in late 2011 to 142,400 in late 2012.
Tan said that while some of the S Pass holders are "workers who were downgraded from EP to S Pass," the rise in the number of S Pass holders is a "cause for concern."
The government is reviewing the framework for S Passes, he said.
Singapore has in place a system of selective immigration by issuing different categories of work passes. The passes include the employment passes, the S Passes and the work permits as well as the dependent passes and the miscellaneous work passes.
The government obviously tightened the immigration and foreign labor policies since around the general election in 2011 following complaints by some of local residents that Singapore is becoming increasingly crowded. However, this led to businesses complaining of shortage of hands in a trade-off.
Singapore government said in a white paper on Tuesday that it plans to grow its population to between 6.5 million and 6.9 million by 2030, from the current 5.31 million. It also aims to raise the total fertility rate from the current 1.2 to around 1.5, which means it will add 15,000 to 25,000 citizens, and 30,000 permanent residents each year. Observers said this means that the foreign labor policies may be further tightened.
To address concerns of the local residents about the city state of 714 square kilometers, the government said it would add 52 square kilometers of land -- largely by reclamation -- by 2030. It will also build 700,000 new housing units and double the size of its rail network.
Overall, the growth of the foreign workforce in Singapore also slowed down significantly in 2012, while local employment growth rose sharply amid the tight labor market, according to a report released on Thursday by the Ministry of Manpower.
The growth in foreign employment eased from 84,800 in 2011 to 70,400 in 2012 respectively, whereas local employment growth rose to 59,200 from the gains of 37,900 in 2011.
Excluding foreign domestic workers and construction workers, the growth in foreign employment was even lower at 32,200 in 2012, compared with the growth of 60,200 in 2011.
In December 2012, locals accounted for 66.4 percent of Singapore's workforce excluding foreign domestic workers. The rest were foreigners working in Singapore.
LOW JOBLESS RATE
With high employment creation, the unemployment remained low. The seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate dipped to 1.8 percent in December from 1.9 percent in September 2012.
For the whole of 2012, the average unemployment rate remained low at 2 percent. The rate was 3 percent for citizens, unchanged from 2011.
While tightening the foreign labor policies, the government urged local businesses to raise their productivity to reduce reliance on cheap foreign labor.
The nominal income from work of Singaporeans continued to rise, though at a slower pace in 2012 due to the weaker economic conditions. The median monthly income from work of full-time employed citizens rose by 5.8 percent to 3,248 Singapore dollars in 2012, down from the growth of 6.3 percent in 2011.
Balanced by lower inflation, the real median income growth was 1.2 percent in 2012, compared with 1 percent in 2011.
The consumer price inflation rose over the year by 4.6 percent in 2012, down from the increase of 5.2 percent in 2011.