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As Singapore attracts more expats again, Hong Kong struggles

The past two and a half years have not been great for foreign finance professionals looking to find jobs in Singapore or Hong Kong. The Lion City cracked down on the issuance of Employment Passes during the pandemic and reinvigorated its programmes to prioritise local talent. Hong Kong, meanwhile, saw thousands of expats leave its shores, and the flow of new overseas applicant grind to halt thanks to onerous quarantine laws.

In recent weeks, however, the two Asian financial hubs have begun to grow apart when it comes to their appeal to foreign talent, largely because of Singapore relaxing its Employment Pass regulations. eFinancialCareers gauged the state of the expat employment market during a recent round table with senior recruiters from both Hong Kong and Singapore. Here’s what they had to say:

Reducing quarantine times hasn’t enticed more overseas candidates to Hong Kong

Hong Kong reduced its quarantine period for travellers from 14 days to a new “3+4” arrangement, but this hasn’t affected the supply of foreign talent, according to HK-based round table attendees. “Whenever we want to hire from outside Hong Kong, we still face strong difficulties because of quarantine,” said one panellist at the eFinancialCareers round table. “Clients are open to candidates from overseas, but incoming talent to Hong Kong is very minimal. The whole process to get them over here is challenging,” added another.

Employment Passes are getting easier to obtain in Singapore

Singapore-based attendees said it has become slightly more straightforward to obtain Employment Passes for foreign candidates. “We see more EPs being approved now. Another good sign is that we’re getting EPs for our contracting staff as well,” said a recruiter. One round table delegate said while the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) has become “more relaxed with EPs”, this is in comparison to its very strict stance in 2021. Employers still need a “strong justification” to import talent, she added.

MoM is also making it easier to process standard Employment Pass (EP) applications, including by restoring the Fair Consideration Framework’s local job advertising duration to the pre-pandemic level of 14 days from 1 September 2022. “The labour market has since recovered strongly, and we are making this adjustment in view of the tight labour market,” according to an MoM statement. The standard processing time for EP applications has also been reduced from three weeks to 10 days. MoM has also introduced the elite five-year Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass, which is available from January 1, and will require most applicants to earn a fixed monthly salary of at least S$30k a month.

But another test for overseas talent in Singapore will come next year

One recruiter said all her EP candidates have been placed into the three domestic Singaporean banks this year. “EPs are quite bank specific. The local banks have no problems getting them, probably because their base of local employees is already bigger, but there are issues for certain foreign banks,” she explained. Banks who employ comparatively low rates of Singaporeans will be further placed under the MoM spotlight in September next year when the points-based COMPASS immigration framework comes into force and their level of Singaporean employment becomes an official factor in all EP applications. This will be the “true test” of the Republic’s approach to global talent and will put banks “at the mercy of their own HR track records”.

The drip of jobs from Hong Kong to Singapore has begun

The panellist have, predictably, seen a year-on-year uptick in enquiries from Hong Kong-based candidates about jobs in Singapore, with much of this coming from Western expats. Hongkongers who want to relocate largely target Western countries. While the increase in Singapore EP approvals (see above) hasn’t been substantial enough to set all these job moves in motion, some are starting to take place. “We’ve seen some banks quietly shift HK roles to Singapore, but they’re not open about this – they don’t want to annoy either government,” said a recruiter. Another attendee added: “Some of our clients are more flexible in terms of location. If the job was historically in Hong Kong, it could now be based in Singapore, depending on the candidate.”

Image: Photo by shawnanggg on Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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