New pilot scheme to help high-growth tech firms bring in EP talent

EDB, ESG to facilitate such applications under two-year pilot for eligible firms in sectors like digital, medtech, biotech, fintech


UNDER a new pilot, qualifying technology firms will have the Employment Pass applications of "core team members" facilitated, to help them get the talent needed to set up new teams here, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) said on Tuesday.

EDB managing director Chng Kai Fong said Tech@SG "will not only give tech companies the confidence to hire the tech talent they need" but also create opportunities for Singaporeans to work in globally competitive teams alongside top engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world.

Expected to start in the fourth quarter of 2019, the two-year pilot of Tech@SG aims to help tech firms grow in Singapore and expand in the region, by giving them access to required business networks and talent.

It is aimed at high-potential companies in growth areas such as digital, medtech, biotech, cleantech, agritech and fintech.

Tech@SG will connect such firms to Singapore's innovation and startup ecosystem, and facilitate the entry of core team members. The teams which such firms set up here would include professionals with skills in "frontier technology" such as data science, artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things.

"Qualifying companies will have the Employment Pass (EP) applications of their core team members facilitated under the programme," said the EDB and ESG in a press release.

"Manpower flexibilities" will be provided, if needed. This includes considering alternative factors, such as stock options remuneration in relation to EP salary requirements, or deep skills in place of formal academic qualifications.

Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills welcomed the news, saying: "Choosing what skills we need to complement those of our local talent and facilitating their entry to Singapore just makes sense."

Singapore Business Federation chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit said more flexibility would help firms manage the talent shortage problem.

He noted that while no quotas apply to EP holders, there are requirements such as salary, qualifications, and posting vacancies on the national Job Bank portal. "Some flexibility in these requirements to allow companies to bring their tech talent to Singapore quickly and with certainty will be useful, especially in the fast-paced tech sectors," he said.

ESG assistant chief executive officer Edwin Chow said "high-growth companies with technology needs" will benefit from global talent's expertise, especially tech startups that need to strengthen capabilities and scale up more quickly.

Asked if Tech@SG would allow for faster approvals, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) said that the processing time "will be within three weeks for most cases" under Tech@SG. This is the same duration stated on MOM's website for online EP applications.

Sharon Teo, chairman of industry association SGTech's Singapore Enterprise Chapter, said the initiative "will be a great help to the tech industry", but added: "We hope that the programme will not be limited to a select few 'high-potentials', but also benefit all Singapore-based tech companies."

As a neutral party that understands local tech firms' needs and challenges, SGTech could play a role "to facilitate the qualification process for companies to be on board for this programme", she suggested.

AI startup Taiger's founder and chief executive officer Sinuhe Arroyo is "very optimistic" about the pilot and its role in accelerating Taiger's growth here. In the highly competitive AI space, "timely onboarding" of talent is critical, he added.

Customer engagement startup Perx Technologies similarly welcomed the move, saying that the ability to hire rapidly allows small firms to compete with large multinationals for top talent.