Citizens A Minority In MNCs?


A friend of mine works in an MNC. He commented recently that Singapore citizens are a rare breed at his workplace. In his extended team of about 30, there are Indians, British, Asian Americans and Malaysian Chinese, but only 2 Singaporeans. And one of the 2 is a contract worker!

This is not only limited to his extended team. Throughout the office, spanning several floors in the building, he said it’s hard to find more than a handful Singaporeans in middle to senior positions. However, in sales and lower-end operations, and especially in technical support, there are more citizens.

If people are interested to know whether MNCs are better paymasters than GLCs, it’s also logical for them to ask how many citizens are employed by MNCs in Singapore and in what positions. Unfortunately I can’t find any figures.

In forums, a forummer mentioned that there’s a quota limiting the ratio of foreigners vs citizens, but the quota “clubs” PRs and Singaporeans together. He is only partly correct.

Quotas are only applicable to work permits and ‘S’ pass foreign workers. See difference between foreign workers and foreign talent and MOM webpage on foreign worker quotas.

On the other hand, foreigners earning more than $2,500 hold employment passes. They are classified as “professionals” (as opposed to “skilled workers”). These foreign professionals are not subject to any quota.

This MOM reply to a query in ST says it all (boldface mine):

“Apart from the S-Pass, companies can also bring in foreign professionals, managers and executives on employment passes to meet their staffing needs. There is no quota for Employment Pass holders. However the applicant must be paid a basic monthly salary of at least $2,500 and have acceptable qualifications.”

There is no quota. If you run a company and pay more than $2,500 to each employee, you can have 100% foreigners in your company.

Still, the forummer is correct regarding the lumping of PRs and citizens. For skilled foreign workers, MOM enforces a certain quota. However, as stated in this MOM page (boldface mine):

” ‘Local workforce’ refers to those full-time employees (Singapore citizens or permanent residents).”

So, technically, any company in Singapore can hire zero Singapore citizen and have foreigners as all its employees.


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  1. you are wrong – E Pass does have quote – wheres it is not stringent like those employing work permit holders.

    For example, if a company is of mid size – say 30 staff, try to get all 30 as foreigners.

    Singapore does protect the professionals as well, or force the professionals to get into PRP – entailing a higher pay.

    One more thing – I did have this client, who has about 40 odd staff, almost all are Indian, and a few locals. While I did think like you, only later did I find that the only foreigner was the IT guy – from India, and the rest were all CITIZENS.

    Racial profiling doesnt work my friend.

    One more thing – in my previous employ, we had close to 60 staff, and when a new division (as a seperate company) was started, about 30 outsourced engineers were recruited from China – only 10 got their EP approved, and the rest were rejected and repeated appeals to MOM gave hazy answers, until the officer bluntly asked what gives that the new company had to be 100% foreign employed.

    Only then did we find out the unwritten rule for foreigners for EP, unlike Work pass, and MOM’s alternate implied suggestion was – PAY THEM 5 figure salary to prove their worth, and MAYBE WE will close one eye ..

  2. Typo – in the Indian company I mentioned locals = equating to Chinese – whom I racially profiled as locals and the rest as expats ..

  3. Michael, thanks for your comment.

    If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that MOM does have a quota even for EPs, but it is “unwritten”. Since it’s not in black and white, this doesn’t negate the perceived technical possibility that a company can hire 100% foreigners, or does it?

    On your other point, no one is suggesting using “racial profiling”. One can simply network around in his company and specifically ask about the nationalities.

    If you work in a team, you surely know who are the foreigners, who are the PRs and who are the citizens, right? Similarly, another person in another team will know about his team. And both of you can exchange info, and so on.

  4. In my team of nine people: 3 Citizens, 2 PRs, 4 Foreigners.
    Singaporeans are not too expensive or under-qualified but it is very hard to find ones that are innovative and pro-active. Perhaps the consequence of the education system or living with their parents until they are over 30/married?

  5. if what you guys are saying, then it shows the amount of rumors and irresponsible exaggerations by people and websites [including this one]…i always had a feeling that people dont discriminate against locals bcus they are expensive, but not a single local admits his shortcomings…its always blaming the external factors…god knows what the truth is…

  6. England Soccer Team Sucks on

    Why England flopped in the world cup?

    Because EPL does not groom and produce enough local players. Not giving them enough exposure at competitive level. Most of the clubs just import foreign players.

    Now they have realised their mistake and change the player rules for the game.

    Hope that Singapore is not too late to realise its mistake and make amendments.

    Lets see if England can win the next world cup.

  7. Good analogy…but it is a long process and takes at least five to ten years. Germany changed their local player policy around 2000 and are now reaping the benefits!
    Perhaps the 2018 World Cup if it is held in England…

  8. For example, German clubs must pick 12 home-grown players in their matchday squads, whereas the Premier League conforms to Uefa’s rule of eight out of a 25-man squad – and even then that can mean including foreign nationals as long as they have trained for three years at a Premier League club’s academy.

    The German academy system educates 5,000 players between the age of 12 and 18. As a consequence, the number of German under-23-year-olds playing regularly in the Bundesliga is 15% – up from 6% a decade ago.

    This is reflected in the youthful make-up of the German team in South Africa. This is the youngest team (average age 25) they have sent to a World Cup since 1934. England by way of contrast have sent their oldest in history (28).

  9. to England Soccer Team Sucks on

    England Soccer Team Sucks: i totally agree with what you have said but why are you echoing facts that have already been reiterated many times in the newspapers and making it sound like its your own assessment/views? You need to be smarter to show that you are truely smart. LOL 🙂

  10. i work for one of the world’s most influential companies. in my office singaporeans account for close to 25% of the workforce, but most them are in secretarial or support roles.

    so the number of singaporeans working in the core business is probably 10%.

  11. to hungryangmo on

    dear hungryangmo, in your opinion what are the main reasons why more singaporeans aren’t able to take on roles in core business? experience? aptitude? attitude? communication skills? language problems? education system?

    thanks for being honest with us.

  12. most local are not the best talker. Perhaps English language is not our mother touge. IMO, to be in the core and at the top, one of the pre-requisite is to be able to articulate well and to bring across ideas and proposals in a “powderful” way that people(even those seated half-way across the globe) embrace your ideas. in short, most locals cannot “sell” and is weak in marketing ourselve, but are better in execution and taking orders. so, only a handful of locals in MNC are able to survive, do well and move to the top.

  13. MNC worker 2 on

    best “talker”? mother “touge”? oh my god…..what an irony….the way you articulate…i thought you are from a SME 🙂

  14. i wrote that in a rush. on hindsight, should have employ a staff to help me to proof read/correct typo/grammer mistakes before i click on the send button in the forum. Anyway thanks for taking on this role for free.

  15. in my experience, singaporeans do not lack in any of the attributes mentioned. they have the aptitude, no attitude problems, good communications skills…i really can’t put my finger on why more singaporeans aren’t choosing my profession as a career. perhaps they prefer to work in GLCs or government bodies.

  16. to hungryangmo on

    thanks. maybe singaporeans aren’t creative enough, and more importantly not aggressive in climbing the corporate ladder? simply put, not “hungry” enough? 🙂

  17. agree with MNC worker. most sinkies dun dare to speak up and are overlooked by the ang mo management in MNCs. Those who get promoted in MNCs are usually the ABNNs, who talk a lot but cannot work. sinkies really need to be more aggressive and speak up more.

  18. 🙂 yeah, singaporeans really need to be hungry, more aggressive, go-getting. go global, if necessary. it’s always easier to get a job in an MNC or move higher within one if one has some overseas experience. living and working abroad also provides some perspective.

  19. When I visited my company’s Thailand office, most of the people there are Thai people (you can easily tell by their language). Only the very senior people are of the “home” nationality.

  20. Yes, Singaporeans need to be more independent and get more overseas experience. Either during their studies, internships or at a MNC.
    But beware: you might not want to come back to Singapore!!!

    For example Germany: higher salaries, 28 holidays per year (PLUS public holidays), full social security benefits, landed property cheaper than a 3-room HDB flat, cars cost half the price etc.

  21. As for the support roles, try recruiting a clerical staff from overseas.

    Some jobs are ‘reserved’ for locals, and 9 out of 10 expat sales heads in small companies are actually employed as ‘engineers’

    How do I know that ? My previous company had three expat sales – and their EP paperwork says they are ‘engineering support staff’

    MOM is not publishing the rules for EP – and it is unlike what is suggested as 100% expat employment is possible.

    Anyway, if you know the law, you can always find ways to have 100% foreign staff though the staff may be employed under different companies.

    As for clubbing PR and Citizens together as not right – well, if not most – atleast some of the Citizens were PRs at one stage right ??

  22. Jamie – you see thais in Thailand companies, and so and so .. because if you step out of the comfort zone, nobody speaks any other language – unlike Singapore, where Singapore being a common language and is enough to make it here – that draws expats I guess

    I tried in Philippines – just 2 weeks and I gave up – despite their English, majority of Philippines can’t survive in English, so much so most of the foreign companies like Japanese and Koreans employ a lot of their compatriates to make things move easier .. and keep the locals only for ‘interfacing’ and same goes for Indonesia. And even Malaysia to an extent. A friend’s daughter was admitted to a respected private hospital in KL and none of the staff could explain in English what was going on.

    Can you compare that to Singapore ?

    Cheers – and Happy National Day

  23. Michael, I am not a Singaporean, but my experiences with people from the Phillipines are very different. The company that I work for here has over 80 people from the Phillipines and the majority or rather I have never met any of them who does not speak excellent English (much better than the Singaporeans in the office) and yes they are all recruited straight from Manila and surrounding cities. And no these are not low level paying jobs, I would say most are paid 5K and above.

  24. Mr “But….”, read again. Michael was responding to Jamie who alluded that MNCs in other countries seem to employ more locals. Michael surmised that it could be due to language problem in these countries.

    That said, it seems to me that the “language problem” is actually helping the locals in those countries. Singaporeans lose out because we do not need as much “interfacing”!

    I hope what the PM just said will really be felt on the ground – that citizens truly come first.

    The current sentiment is just the opposite. People around me are saying citizens are 2nd class or even 3rd class.

    Happy National Day.

  25. Many MNCs operate their APAC regional operation from Singapore. So, naturally there will be a lot of foreigners/PRs in those regional offices. When comparing, the regional operation and country operation should be taken into account.

  26. To nimo: I don’t understand. Why is it necessary to “naturally” have a lot of foreigners/PRs in those “regional” offices? Do these MNCs need specialized skills that citizens don’t possess? What kind of skills?

    Or do you mean that the senior management move around and happen to be posted here? If that’s the case, why can’t they hire more citizens in the middle and mid-upper positions?

    Thinking from the country’s perspective, is it good to have MNCs who hire a lot of foreigners?

    It may not be obvious, but they could be encouraged by the ease of hiring foreigners.

    They have no incentive to hire and/or train up citizens. They don’t have to give priority to citizens. No need to provide opportunities.

    In addition, it’s a fact that people prefer their own kind, naturally.

    Other than paying taxes (we have one of the world’s lowest corporate tax rates), what other ways can such corporate entities contribute to Singapore? The most direct way is to give us jobs jobs jobs!

    Didn’t someone say that foreign talent here create more jobs for Singaporeans?

    Or is it the government who is instead creating more jobs for citizens? Can we have a breakdown of citizens being hired in the private sector vis-a-vis the public sector?

    By “citizens”, I mean Singapore citizens, not the usual “locals” which can mean anything but citizens. I’m beginning to hate the term “locals”.

  27. But …

    Well, if you have worked in Philippines, you will know that it is not easy to work if you don’t know the taglish – I am not kidding.

    Those who can speak good and adapt are already out of the country, and those who are left behind, even though they can speak and read and write english, it is a nightmare sometimes to get things done – unless you have a filipino as an inter-mediary .. Same goes for Thai people ..

    Not picking on any races, always it is a case of ‘local language ..’ which Singapore has managed to over come – and in return attract a lot of expats ..

    I know some guys who were based in Thailand, French guys, and 9 our of 10 had to learn thai to work in their own office which is an MNC, and to top it off – the business language is ENGLISH !!!

  28. To butter:

    The regional operation of an MNC will always have more foreigners because they need to manage whole region/theatre, not just Singapore. It needs more diversity and inclusiveness. Our global office in the USA has ~50% of non-US staff and a couple of them are also Singaporeans. The percentage is even higher in R&D.

    The proportion of local talent is high in other countries (ex: Thailand) is because they are maninly country operation, not a regional one. Same is true for local operations of MNCs in Singapore where the proportion of locals are high (my previous post).

    Honestly speaking, one of the main reasons of why so many regional opeartions are headquartered in Singapore is because of the apparent easiness to move talent. My old company wanted to move to KL in 2001, however, they did not act mainly for law and order and labor inflexibility.

    How does this benefit Singapore? There is a concept in economics called ‘ripple effect’. There may not be many jobs directly going to the locals, but the ‘foreigners’ are staying in Singapore and spending their salary mostly here. They pay their rents, eat out, go vacation using SQ, buy gadgets and cloths, their friends/relatives come to visit them– all contributing to creation of other jobs, benefiting the locals. As for MNCs, they are actually spending money earned elsewhere and spending them in their regional offices. Singapore accounts for only 7%-12% of APAC revenue based on my experience with 3 MNCs.

    The MNCs can move their regional operation anywhere they want to. With other countries like India and China are drastically improving their infrastructure and liberalizing the economy (in hangzhou, China–my company just established a regional support center that has 5 local Chinese in pay roll out of 27 headcount) we should be very careful of what we demand.

    Having said that, I fully agree that a local operation of an MNC should have mostly locals–unless their is a specific talent gap in the local market. However, that is not the case that I see right now…

    Just my 2 cents…..

  29. @Nimo: one of my contact’s company started a shipping operation out of Port Klang, and all the staff employed were given 3 months work pass, and every three months, they had to run up, look for their ‘local’ bumi partner, with return tickets to prove that they will be repatriated if the subsequent pass had not been approvied, and then the staff were kept wondering whether they can work for the next three months or not. It has been terrifying for the staff as to their continued employment.

    After 2 years, they moved the op to Singapore, and MOM gave the whole team 2 years EP/Work passes – and according to them, Singapore provided the best solution, and despite the higher costs, the benefits outweighed the costs here.

    Some of their stuff had grumbling that in KL, they were assigned individual Condos, and here, it was shared apartments, but when they were reminded of the insecurity in KL and all – they had learnt to appreciate the benefit of stability in Singapore.

  30. I work in a MNC construction company, there are 10 employees in our site office at the moment. There is only one singapore citizen.

    Previously my site office have 25 staffs, 5 were singapore citizen.

    I think when come to construction company, you can safely assume citizen is a minority of around 10% to 20%, no matter it is a local company or MNC.

  31. Hi Alibaba

    from what I know – different industries have different quota – construction and ship building and such have a higher allowance for foreigners than sectors like F&B and so I think ..

    MOM has clear descriptions for construction sector quota

  32. QS: if you are looking for an opening, since this is a forum, I would suggest you look at the Big EPC companies – you can land something – and FW and McD were hiring even recently..

  33. I work in MNCs. I am a mid management level.

    In 1990s, mostly locals. The locals are also the the frontier that push towards outsourcing into China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia etc. I would say then the government support grooming local talents that result in Venture, Hyflux, Natsteel Electronic, etc

    In 2005, we have about 70% locals ( Singaporeans + PR)

    In 2006, we have about there too.

    In 2009 and now, I observe and see only 20 to 30% at most. Why? It is so easy to bring foreigners into Singapore. Every MNCs like to bring their own people into here, since the government doesn’t care much. They will just load up the full truck.

    And of course, we suffer from office politics too.

  34. To all, it is a fact that we are having more foreigners working in Singapore. How about I ask the question the other way round.

    If Singapore median wages is at 2400. And we need 10 year to reach a median of 3100.

    Can I safely say that the Singaporean is a minority fraction of the Top 100 Singapore paying job?

    Because at 75 percentile for the 100 job, it is higher than the 2,400 median that we seeing now.

    We not draw 2 charts, the number of local working versus the foreigners. And the wages these 2 buckets get in the same age group and sectors.

  35. @Jason: no .. I am not even a government servent, but sometimes couldn’t resist sharing my experience ..

    I am in the private sector –


  36. >It is so easy to bring foreigners into Singapore. Every MNCs like to bring their own people into here, since the government doesn’t care much. They will just load up the full truck.

    as jason said above, this isn’t the case as recent as 2006 when citizens are at 70% level. now it’s just 20-30%.

    another person commented in another thread that very soon we will become maids in our own country. we will be the lowly paid servants to the foreigners here!

    i think the government has lost touch.

  37. I used to work in an MNC. My boss is an Asian foreigner. He pushes all the plumb jobs to fellow foreigners or foreigners-turned-citizens to do, whereas native Singaporeans who are not less capable are assigned less-important/supporting roles.

    You know what? To get rid of someone doing simple supporting jobs is easier to get rid of someone doing much more value-added job.

    Foreigners protecting foreigners.
    Hegemony forever!

  38. @this is sad:

    I don’t think the foreigners to local ratio just moved from 70% to 20-30% maybe you are looking at some ‘magic’ number

    Anyway, last sunday there was an article about a company which had so many problem getting work visa for staff in US, they relocated to Singapore ..

    It is called Globalisation: if you don’t want MNC money, and all their bling blang, you can also say no to their attendent expat staff ..

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