Category Archives: foreign talent

Skills, Varsity Rankings, Degrees and Wastepaper!

The 2019 list of global university rankings from Times Higher Education is out and the National University of Singapore has slid only a notch – from 22 last year to 23 now. Tsinghua University has moved to the 22nd place (eight slots higher from last year’s list) which makes it Asia’s number 1 university.

This is where the NUS has lost lustre as it can no longer pride itself as the region’s leader in education. Singapore will still be pleased as it has only lost the mantle to a university in China, given its affinity for the red giant.

The slide may become an annual fixture as the Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung (who has a degree from the London School of Economics and an MBA from another institution in Europe) had recently advised Singaporeans not to be fixated about degrees. He even thought a future Prime Minister without a degree was a distinct possibility.

That is Singapore’s style of dealing with any demand for more places in Singapore universities for locals.

Interestingly, Tsinghua has a student population of more than 47,000, with only less than 8% of them being from overseas (3,472). In other words, it caters to a largely local population as 92% of its students are from China.

Foreigners Outnumber Locals: In contrast, NUS has a strength of around 38, 000 students with more than 28% of the slots being consumed by foreigners. My understanding is that if we break it down into STEM and non-STEM UG courses, foreign students will account for an overwhelming majority of them.

I don’t understand what the minister has been implying by saying skills are more important than degrees. Shouldn’t he and the Government be initiating steps to ensure more Singaporeans get into varsity courses with focus on skills that are in demand in a smart Nation?

When a degree in a non-STEM discipline is weighed against one in STEM, it requires no rocket science expertise to see the former will have less market value, affecting their job prospects.

So, why are more Singaporeans pursuing degrees with a diminishing value? What is the Government doing about it? Bringing in more foreign workers to meet their goal of a seven-million population?

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Education, Employment in Singapore, foreign talent, General

Jobs: Singapore’s Laudable New Initiatives

The Singapore Government appears to be finally getting serious about dealing with challenges in the employment landscape.

The actions it has initiated include:

Beyond Superficial Stipulations

All are laudable initiatives that are bound to resonate well with Singaporeans as well as the employers.

This is particularly so because they go beyond earlier superficial, peripheral plans such as the Jobs Bank under which openings for high-paying jobs had to be first advertised there. It is only if employers are unable to find suitable local candidates they can apply for an Employment Pass (EP).

I don’t think that is working well as employers favourably disposed to bringing in foreigners can trot out any number of excuses to justify their preference.

The new initiatives show the Government is ready to inject more funds towards helping Singaporeans find jobs and towards supporting businesses attuned to them.

Can Go Easy on Granting PR While Getting Tough on New EPs

I find that the Government has made the granting of permanent residence (PR) very stringent. The Government can get a little more lenient, with necessary vetting, to win the loyalty of PR applicants as they are already here on Employment Passes (EP).

Where the Government must be strict is on issuing new EPs and restrict any influx of more new foreigners and making the already overpopulated country even more crowded.

Once employers find it difficult to get new EPs they will automatically consider hiring suitably qualified locals without any age or race prejudices.

Campus Recruitments

But I am not seeing any big effort in ensuring young graduates find a footing even as they step out their institutions. Campus recruitments will perhaps need to be strengthened.

Also, for entry-level positions, I still see even multinational companies cite Mandarin as a necessity. That is, even for roles that require no knowledge of Mandarin for day-to-day functional work.

It may be difficult to quell that as even if Mandarin is not mentioned as a requirement in job ads, the employers can still choose to enforce that in the hiring process without any scrutiny.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under foreign talent, Singapore job scene

The “High-Skilled” and “Foreign Talent” Misnomer

If it is “Foreign Talent” for Singapore it is “High-Skilled” workers for the U.S. Both, to me, are jarring expressions as most imports into the two countries can hardly be dubbed “talent” or “high skilled”.

They just fulfil the different objectives of the two countries – boosting population for one and meeting mostly entry-level programming requirements for the other. Of course, they also help address some of their STEM and PMET requirements. But I am not talking about exceptions here.

Cracks in the System

It is the H-1B visa programme in the U.S. that carries the high-skilled foreigners’ tag. The administration led by President Donald Trump is considering plans to give the H-1B system an overhaul to ensure that only those with sound qualifications are granted those visas.

Currently, it is a lottery system that decides who gets the 65,000 H-1B visas each year with 20,000 more set aside for those with Master’s degrees from American universities.

The H-1B gaps that have become the talking point are many but key among them are:

  1. 80% of those holding the H-1B visa have only bachelor’s degrees and even these are hardly from universities or institutions of repute. The argument against this is that those with mere preliminary degrees cannot be allowed to displace equally qualified Americans.
  • Since this is decided upon through a lottery, the deserving and the well-qualified ones may miss the cut.
  1. Another equally compelling argument is that the H-1B visas merely meet the cheap labour needs of American companies.
  • To address this gap, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in January this year, proposing doubling of the minimum annual salary to US$130,000 to qualify for the H-1B visa. But that appears to have been aimed at only those companies that depend heavily on H-1B visas – more than 15% of its total workforce.

Heavy Lobbying

There is heavy lobbying against any changes to the H-1B programme, particularly from Indian leaders and American technology companies.

An Indian government delegation even recently visited the U.S. to present a business case for the H-1B system to stay.

The administration appears to have indicated to them that H-1B reform is not a priority for the U.S.

It is possible the H-1B system will escape a transformation as the Trump administration has other priorities to tackle – travel ban, illegal aliens, Mexico wall, China, Russia and so forth.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under foreign talent, H-1B

The FT Factor – Aping the U.S. Not Right for Singapore

Foreign Talent (FT) is an expression that is often met with derision in Singapore because of the questionable quality of people being imported into the country.

It became a matter of concern two years ago when Singaporeans began to see a big dip in the quality of life here because of overpopulation through influx from across the shores. Not only were they losing jobs to foreigners even fresh graduates were finding it difficult to enter the workforce. Prime places in the universities in the country were going to foreigners, too.

To compound the situation, the government came up with a lofty plan to boost the population even further – from 5 million to 7 million in 15 years. Not often do governments come up with such insane decisions.

Quality of Life, a Casualty

Singapore was aping the U.S. in every way possible with an eye on the GDP and the economy. In the process, the quality of life has become a casualty.

But the U.S. itself is at a breaking point now after decades and decades of liberalism that disadvantaged Americans. The last few years saw more and more companies in the U.S. laying off American workers who had to train those from overseas who were replacing them. What gumption!

With the emergence of Mr Donald Trump as President, the administration is trying to turn the slogans, “America First” and “America for Americans”, into reality. And why not!

While one of Mr Trump’s first actions was to tackle any influx of terrorists he is also in the process of bringing about changes to the H-1B visa programme. Under this system, 85,000 “high-skilled” foreigners find employment in the U.S. each year, the bulk of them from India.

Through a recent order, the U.S. has suspended expedited processing of H1-B visa applications. But the administration also appears to have indicated that H-1B reform is not a priority for the U.S.

So, Indians can breathe easy! But will a “Singaporeans First” policy come into force in the country? I mean a meaningful policy that goes beyond slogans.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under foreign talent, Immigration, Singapore job scene