SINGAPORE's Economic Development Board (EDB) is rolling out a new "Tech.Pass" to support the entry of up to 500 proven founders, leaders and experts from top tech companies into Singapore.
The EDB bills the scheme as an extension of the Tech@SG programme launched in 2019, to provide fast-growing companies greater assurance of accessing the talent they need. The EDB will administer the pass, supported by the Ministry of Manpower.
The Tech.Pass, aimed at the top tier of tech talents, will allow pass holders to move seamlessly between different activities that contribute to Singapore's tech ecosystem - from running a business, to investing, to mentoring or leading companies, or even lecturing in institutes of higher learning.
Five hundred passes will be made available from January 2021, when applications open. To qualify, individuals must have a track record of leadership in sizeable tech companies, or in developing tech products with mass adoption.
Today, such individuals are already able to start and operate a business in Singapore under the EntrePass, or to work for a company with a valid Employment Pass (EP).
The Tech.Pass will go a step further, allowing individuals to participate in any or a combination of specified activities, without having to apply for different passes.
And unlike the Employment Pass which requires the sponsorship of an employer, the Tech.Pass will be tied to the individual.
The pass will be valid for two years, and can be renewed only once upon expiry. To have their passes renewed, individuals will be assessed against criteria such as income, total business spending, and the number of locals employed by the companies they run.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing announced the initiative on Thursday, at a dialogue with members of Singapore's European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham). He spoke of a "surging demand" and competition among countries around the world for global talent.
"Not even huge countries like the United States, (countries in) Europe or even China will ever claim that they have sufficient talent. Everyone is in this quest for more talent, and a more diverse slate of talent from all across the world," said Mr Chan.
"We'd rather top talent be competing on the side of team Singapore, than competing against Singapore," he added.
Mr Chan said that the Tech.Pass is aimed at the "very top end" of global talent, to create new business opportunities or partner institutes of higher learning to build the next generation of tech talent.
He urged business representatives in attendance to roll out opportunities for Singaporeans at the entry and mid-career levels, pointing to initiatives by multinationals like IBM, Google and SAP to train thousands of locals in areas like artificial intelligence, data analytics, digital marketing and cybersecurity.
Speaking to reporters after the dialogue, he again stressed that the Tech.Pass does not target the larger middle tier of tech workers, who may enter Singapore on company-sponsored Employment Passes and S Passes, and are more likely to work in jobs that Singaporeans also seek.
With the new scheme, Singapore joins the ranks of countries like the UK, France, Malaysia and others that have launched special visas targeted at courting global tech talents. The UK, for example, saw a record number of applicants last month for its Tech Nation visa, even amid Covid-19.
Federico Donato, president of EuroCham, welcomed the development. "EuroCham is extremely pleased to see that the Singapore government remains committed in attracting the best talent in pivotal industries," Mr Donato told The Business Times. "Such talents are crucial in creating more high-skilled jobs for Singaporeans. The European business community affirms that it will continue to support and invest in Singapore, as it has for past decades."