A substantial part of Singapore’s economy relies very much on foreigners.  Many global firms have set up headquarters in the city state attracting many high-earning professionals.  Foreigners also make up almost all positions in intensive labour and domestic workers in the lower income brackets.  Almost one-third of Singapore’s total workforce are foreigners.  As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many foreigners were forced to return home for various reasons.  Let us take a deeper look at the impact of the pandemic on the foreign workforce in Singapore.


Decrease in Foreign Workforce

Since 2020, the Singapore Government has rolled out  several financial packages  to help support individuals and businesses impacted by the pandemic.  However, these support measures availed only to Singapore citizens and permanent residents.  Businesses in Singapore are also under higher pressure to hire more locals as they have to work within limited foreign-worker quotas. 

Furthermore, most international borders have been closed since early 2020.  Many expats, despite having jobs and visas, were unable to enter the country.  Only ones with special permits were allowed in.  This resulted in the reduction in both the resident and non-resident population. According to the latest study by The Strait Times,  Singapore’s population fell 4.1 per cent to 5.45 million in 2021 from 5.69 million in 2020.  Non-residents decreased by 10.7 per cent from 1.64 million in 2020 to 1.47 million in 2021.  The number employment passholders,  (defined as professionals earning at least S$4,500 a month) dropped 8.6 per cent to 177,100 in 2021

singapore population by residency status

Non residence by passes

Outlook of Singapore Re-Opening

The re-opening of Singapore in 2021 has been gradual and in a controlled manner to ensure the number of new COVID-19 cases are within its hospital capabilities.  Singapore recently announced that from 19th October 2021 fully vaccinated people from eight countries (Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, will be able to enter Singapore without quarantining if they pass their COVID-19 tests.  (For full list of applicable countries and details of departure/arrival requirements, click here). 

This will no doubt help bring tourists, business travellers and expats back into the country. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong predicted it will take between three to six months to get to a “new normal” of living with COVID-19.  Many will hope that by then, the Singapore borders will open up to many more countries.p to many more countries.  We should see an increase in foreign workforce in Singapore soon.


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