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Junior expats not so welcome for banking jobs in Singapore as new hiring rules kick in

If you’re a junior finance professional looking to relocate to Singapore for a banking job, your chances of securing a role in the city state are rapidly receding.

Junior foreign candidates are set to be the biggest losers as Singapore implements a new regulation today aimed at encouraging employers to hire more local staff.

Under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) companies must treat Singaporean candidates fairly for all job vacancies. More specifically, they must advertise new jobs to Singaporeans on a government-run website (the “Jobs Bank”) for at least 14 days before they can apply for an “Employment Pass” (EP) for a foreign candidate.

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While the advertising requirement doesn't apply to roles that pay S$144k or more a year (as well as to jobs in firms with 25 or fewer employees and to senior internal transfers), most analyst and associate banking jobs in Singapore pay under this threshold, according to salary surveys from recruiters Ambition and Robert Walters.

“These days, at a junior level banks will only consider Singaporeans; the majority of employment-pass applications for junior foreigners will be questioned,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner at recruitment firm KS Consulting. “Banks have told us that the Monetary Authority of Singapore is monitoring junior hiring very closely. For the local Singaporean banks especially, this is very important – it’s like a national service,” adds Howe Yuin Teo, senior consulting manager at recruitment agency Huxley Associates.

Although banks can in theory apply for employment passes for junior jobs paying less than S$144k – once the two-week advertising period is over – most will adhere to the spirit of the FCF and try to hire a local candidate, say recruiters and HR professionals in Singapore.

One of the reasons the FCF was enacted in the first place is because some employers in Singapore had a disproportionately high number of overseas staff in junior roles, says William Russell, a director at Ambition.

In the current job market, however, redressing this junior imbalance shouldn’t be problematic for banks. “There is now less of an incentive for firms to hire foreign candidates because the proportion of juniors in the local market is much higher than for experienced staff,” says Lay-Hoon Ng, a senior manager at recruitment firm Michael Page.

When foreign juniors can still get banking jobs in Singapore

Banks will still, on rare occasions, press ahead with employment-pass applications if the junior candidate has a “specialised skill-set” or knows a foreign language that is necessary for the role, says Chris Jay, sales director at recruiters Morgan McKinley. For example, possessing niche software skills – such as Avaloq, Simcorp or KDB – may help overseas candidates clinch junior finance-tech jobs in Singapore, says Teo from Huxley.

Banks may also import talent in M&A and capital-markets because analyst and associate salaries often breach the FCF’s $144k threshold in these roles and investment banks currently face a junior local talent shortage in the front office.

It’s more challenging for middle-office junior job seekers. “Compliance professionals need a solid understanding of local regulations and strong working relationships with the local regulators,” says Ng from Michael Page. “Banks are generally resistant for us to contact junior foreign candidates, even in the hot areas of risk and audit.”

The FCF is less likely to affect senior foreign candidates to the same degree: most banking jobs in Singapore at this level pay over $144k, while skill shortages are more severe, so banks are more motivated to hire from abroad. Banks look set to take a pragmatic approach to their senior hiring, while adhering to the FCF’s main requirement of treating Singaporean candidates “fairly”.

“We do move people internationally and not just within Asia – for example, you could move from Amsterdam to Singapore and and vice versa. But we also need on-the-ground knowledge of local markets from local employees, so it’s about striking a balance,” says Catherine Low, country manager for Singapore at ING Bank. “ING is an international bank with clients in Asia and across the world, so the profile of our staff must broadly reflect the profile of our clients.”

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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