Are Foreigners Stealing Jobs from Singaporeans?


Shubhreet Kaur



The sudden rage generated by that headline was so intense, my keyboard just exploded. Cool it. Let’s try to take a somewhat objective view of this. And along the way, let’s look at some solutions…

To start,  30 percent of our working population is foreign. Or if you want to be historical and all, it’s probably 99.99 percent, being that our ancestors were all migrants. But that aside, it does mean that close to a third of our job market is taken up by expats. With the current economic climate, that’s a major cause for worry. Or is it?


Expats Do Take (Low Income) Jobs

Low income jobs pay below $2000 a month. Operating convenience stores, janitorial services, domestic help…that all falls under this category. Foreigners get the lion’s share of these jobs, because they’re supposedly cheaper to hire.

To balance it out, there’s a foreign worker levy, which means it costs from $180 – $450 extra to hire them. There’s also a quota on how many foreigners a company can hire.

It may not be “job stealing”, despite the numbers. If you’ve ever been in the food and beverage (F&B) industry for example, you’ll know Singaporean waiters are in high demand.

Also, most Singaporeans go through the hellish regimen that we call education. I’m guessing you didn’t suffer through school  to get a ‘Diploma in Unclogging Sewer Pipes’, or a ‘Degree in Removing Ungodly Smells From The Public Dump’. Some of these jobs such as construction work, many of us didn’t study to do. We’re not qualified for them, academically or physically.

But let’s say you’re not fussy, and you want a job in this area.  The foreign worker quota, coupled with levy, might improve your chances. Take advantage of the government sponsored programs to upgrade yourself – there are plenty out there!


Foreigners May Take Middle Income Jobs

These are jobs that pay $2000 – $7000 a month, which I’m guessing covers most of us. I’m not going to list all the jobs in this range. I’ve already wrecked one keyboard for this article.

At this level, the biggest hurdle is our perception of ourselves. Whether or not it’s true, Singaporean employers consider expats to be more focused on quality work, and less concerned with money. They think expats are willing to take a lower paid job if it means doing what they love, or a chance to learn more.

(I can see our Creative Arts Majors turning an alarming shade of purple. Sorry folks.)

This impression can work against you. But there are two ways about it:

(1) You can match the expats. If you get a chance to work with a a famous firm or expert, take that pay cut and do it. It’s not forever, and it means a better job later. This is especially true for fresh grads. And if you see any volunteer work that will add to your portfolio, go for it. Prospective employers notice these things.

(2) You can look for a results oriented company. And by that, I mean grind houses where your bosses are completely focused on numbers. These businesses don’t prize “soft skills”, like interpersonal communication or your love for the job. Your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are all that matters to them.

One of my first jobs was like that. The hours were bad, the supervisor was psychotic, and I swear my boss cast no reflection. But because of my track record, I beat out the other applicant, who was Canadian. After two weeks though, I would have begged him to replace me.

Foreigners Are Invited To High Income Jobs

This refers to any job that pays over $7000. In a lot of cases, we have no choice in the matter. These are CEOs, high level scientists, military consultants… people who can build stuff like skyscrapers and orbiting Death Stars. Despite our high standard of education, we don’t know everything.

There’s a spillover effect from bringing in these expats. For one, their expertise gets assimilated. We learn to do it so the next time around, we won’t need more foreign talent. Think of it as a long term investment.

In the high income area, our educational system is supposedly a disadvantage. Employers assume fellow Singaporeans come right out of a robot factory.

We’re supposed to lack the flexibility and initiative to lead large companies.

Adam Khoo’s views are an accurate description of how we’re perceived. We lack drive and “the hunger”. Changing that perspective is something that has to happen on a national level. And until we prove ourselves every bit as ruthless and determined…

Yeah, expats will take our high income jobs.

My Flamewar-Inducing Conclusion

If you went to school for a piece of paper, instead of actually wanting to learn…

If you want to be fussy about the jobs you get…

If you’re not willing to eat humble pie, and trade money for opportunity…

Then not only will a foreign worker steal your job, I will too. Foreigners do compete with you, but that shouldn’t change your approach. So long as you have a passion for your job and you put your all into it, employers will pick you.


Do you feel strongly against foreigners stealing jobs in Singapore? Share your comment below! 

Image Credits:
Muhammad Ashiq


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Shubhreet Kaur

I'm a passionate journalist with a strong belief in the power of media. Besides penning down my thoughts and ideas, I am an F1 fanatic who loves to travel, experience new cultures and explore new grounds. At all other times in between, I love to shop till I drop! ;)