By Moustafa Daly
Singapore, the prosperous island-nation of Southeast Asia, is addressing an anticipated talent crunch by launching a new five-year visa granted to wealthy foreigners earning at least S$30,000 ($22,600), which was announced last August and became available to applicants this January.
‘The Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass’ (ONE Pass) is a personalized pass for top talent across all sectors, including in business, arts and culture, sports, as well as academia and research. It allows eligible applicants to “concurrently start, operate and work for multiple companies in Singapore at any one time,” per the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower.
“The ONE Pass was launched to attract and retain professionals who excel in their respective industries and significantly contribute to the growth of the companies they currently work for - hence the requirement that they must have worked for an 'established company' which must have a market capitalization of at least US$500 million or an annual revenue of at least US$200 million,” explains Sulochana Uthirapathi, founder and managing director at Singapore-based Transform Borders.
People with particularly outstanding achievements in arts, culture, sports and academia are exempt from meeting the salary threshold to be eligible for the ONE Pass.
“For professionals who do not meet the fixed monthly salary cap of SGD 30,000 ($22,600) per month, they will need to prove outstanding achievements. As Singapore aims to be a talent hub to attract investors and top MNCs, the ONE Pass provides an attractive and relatively easy visa process for these professionals to relocate to Singapore with a long term view since five-year-visa duration is granted in the 1st instance on top of the flexibility in employment and entrepreneurship,” says Uthirapathi.
The ONE Pass is issued for a renewable five years, and enables its holders to travel freely in and out of the country, freedom to launch businesses, and includes applicants’ spouses and dependents up to the age of 21. It offers a more flexible and long-term route to staying in Singapore than existing visa schemes, including the widely-used Employment Pass which is often valid for two to three years.
Will the ONE pass be competitive enough for Singapore?
The launch of ONE pass comes in a time where nearby Asian economies are racing to attract capital and talent, with digital nomad and golden visa programs already set-up in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia – how will it hold up against such competition?
“I do believe this scheme will be competitive and attractive to candidates as Singapore is always a desired location for relocation especially for high earners given the locality, progressiveness, political stability, lower tax rates, low crime and massive opportunities in the country,” explains Uthirapathi.
She believes the established reputation of Singapore as a thriving business hub would give it a leg up in the competition, but not without its drawbacks.
“Singapore has a solid infrastructure for business, technology and banking that many high earners will find attractive and it is also one of the most livable and dynamic cities in the world. The only setback I would say might be the high costs of living in Singapore such as rising rental costs and International School fees that might make the markets you have mentioned more attractive. However, for the candidates who are eligible for the ONE Pass, these costs might be more manageable,” she adds.
The ONE Pass is fundamental to Singapore’s economy
Singapore, which is scarce in natural resources, is a nation of immigrants, with the percentage of foreign-born citizens amounting to over 44% in 2022, most of them originating from China. Immigrants have played a crucial role in bolstering the nation’s economy and making it what it is today and thus Singapore sees the launch of the ONE Pass as fundamental to its continued prosperity.
“Getting this right is all the more critical for Singapore, where people are our only real resource,” said Singapore’s Manpower Minister Tan See Lend in a ministerial address last September.
"As we move to create a high-value, inclusive and a more sustainable economy; be it in the green sector, AI, or fintech, we need to attract the best [talent] from around the world. These are the rainmakers of the world; whom we hope to bring to Singapore so we can tap into their networks, and learn from their expertise."
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