Expats in Singapore—With Singapore’s bustling global city as a home base, Atar Sandler took advantage of the possibility to travel to other exotic destinations nearby.
For two years, the Israeli human resources expert and her family were forced to stay indoors and avoid public gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this month, they packed their bags and flew to New York City with their husbands and children.
“It’s been like this for so long now.” As Sandler put it, “It doesn’t feel like anything will change here.” This place is a dream come true. If you can’t see your family, friends, or travel, is it worth it to live a convenient life?
Risk-averse, The city-state of Singapore is attempting to strike a delicate balance between protecting its citizens from the disease and reopening its economy and borders to maintain its position as a global financial and human capital hub.
With a good quality of life, political stability, a talented workforce, easy access to travel, and cheap taxes, the business-friendly country has long attracted companies and expatriate professionals.
In Singapore, where foreign workers make up a quarter of the population of 5.5 million, the COVID scandal has led many wealthy ex-pats to reevaluate their lifestyles.
Some people compare the rigorous COVID rules with the freedom they have back home, while others lament that they cannot freely visit relatives because of the restrictions. Still, others have joined the worldwide “great resignation” movement.
Sandler found it “devastating” that her family did not get to meet her second kid for a year after she gave birth to her daughter amid the outbreak.
Despite the epidemic, Singapore’s population shrank by the most since 1950, falling by 4.1% year-on-year as of June 2021, despite the ongoing influx of foreign money and talent.
Construction and marine services industries are the two most common industries engaged by low-wage employees.
For those earning at least $4,500 a month in Singaporean dollars ($3,350), the number of employment pass holders dropped by roughly 14 percent from December 2019 to June 2021.
Expatriate life is inherently transitory, and many people have left their jobs and countries because their employers are cutting costs and positions. Due to border constraints, firms could not easily replace departing foreign labor.
Nessa Santos, a Filipina who worked in Singapore for a decade, and her British husband decided to migrate from the city-state to the English countryside with their children because of the pandemic.
While Santos acknowledged the positive aspects of his work, he admitted that it was also “very stressful and demanding.” “That way of life wasn’t for us anymore.”
A software start-up has hired Chris Anderson, who went to Singapore from Hong Kong in 2019 and has returned to the United States. Restrictions on foreigners returning to Hong Kong bothered him, notwithstanding their status as residents.
“There is no urgency to get back in if you leave the nation… This is something you have to keep in mind at all times,” Anderson remarked.
Expats in Singapore: Singapore Still a Good Place for Business
Still, Singapore has been making it more straightforward for travelers to enter and is becoming more attractive to expatriates residing in Hong Kong, which has significantly stricter laws due to its zero-COVID strategy, as a result of these efforts.
Lee Quane, a regional director at relocation agency ECA International, says there has been a “trickle” of movement from Hong Kong into Singapore. By 2022, he predicts that outflows of expats in Singapore will surpass inflows due to tighter foreign worker rules and concerns about virus variations.
Japan’s Ministry of Manpower reported this week that the net reduction in the non-resident workforce had slowed in 2021 and that there had been an increase in November.
The government, emphasizing the necessity of maintaining an open border, expects to “keep the course” of a gradual loosening of border controls barring any unexpected developments. There is little doubt that Singapore’s openness, the rule of law, and stability in policy make it an attractive place for enterprises and individuals alike.
According to Hsien-Hsien Lei, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, companies hire critical personnel and gain permits for work passes.
“Of course, things aren’t perfect. However, Singapore is a terrific place to live and do business from a relative perspective,” added Lei.
Stories on the Ground
Ms. Shamalee, 42, booked a flight back to Sri Lanka in April last year to meet her mother, who had been unable to travel because of Covid-19-induced travel restrictions. She is among the expats in Singapore.
She had hoped to reunite with her ex-boyfriend until the Delta variation spread like wildfire across South Asia, said Ms. Shamalee, an analyst at an investment bank in Singapore since 2017. “I made every effort to return home… According to Ms. Shamalee, who preferred not to disclose her full name, “they announced on April 30 that they were prohibiting all returnees from Sri Lanka (who are not Singapore nationals or permanent residents) during the Delta variant outbreak.”
Long-term pass holders and short-term tourists with recent travel histories to Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka will not be allowed admission or transit via Singapore, as the Singapore government declared last April. Expats in Singapore who had previously gained formal authorization to enter the nation were not exempt from the new rule.
All pre-approved return flights had to be canceled as a result of this. On the other hand, Singapore nationals and permanent residents (PRs) can return to Singapore after completing a quarantine in Singapore.
Ms. Shamalee, an EP holder, was devastated by this. She visited her mother, who is in her 70s and lives in Sri Lanka, about once or twice a month before the pandemic. Part of why she chose to stay in Singapore was the short flight time from Sri Lanka.
Despite the Singapore Delta outbreak’s worsening, Ms. Shamalee and other expats in Singapore, who had no personal family here, became increasingly concerned.
“I wouldn’t be able to return to Singapore if I traveled to Sri Lanka… It was completely out of control… For what seemed like an eternity, I had to wait… It got to be a little much after a while,” she said.
Ultimately, Ms. Shamalee decided to migrate to London, where fewer constraints were on her ability to travel. In October of last year, she departed Singapore and now works for the same investment bank’s European branch.
The question of returning to Singapore for work or pleasure elicited a resounding “no.”
Many foreigners working and expats in Singapore suffer similar difficulties as border procedures make hassle-free admission and leave a nightmare. According to TODAY, expats in Singapore face animosity and job uncertainty in September 2020, which also reported on this issue.
Covid-19 restrictions on the island were a factor in Ms. Shamalee’s decision to leave the island along with other expats in Singapore.
According to several HR specialists who deal closely with companies that hire expatriates, Singapore has lost its luster as an ex-pat haven in the face of an unprecedented epidemic that has flipped the world upside down.