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COVID-19: Singapore’s Delicate Balancing Act Between Reopening Economy and Health Considerations
| Jenny Lee

COVID-19: Singapore’s Delicate Balancing Act Between Reopening Economy and Health Considerations

COVID-19: Singapore’s Delicate Balancing Act Between Reopening Economy and Health Considerations

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way we operate with respect to work and travel, creating a tremendous impact on the global immigration landscape.

For Singapore, which was one of the earlier countries to detect COVID-19, measures such as entry bans, border closure and entry approval requirements—with harsh penalties for violations—were progressively introduced and implemented in response to the outbreak from the end of January and the start of February 2020.

The Singapore government subsequently announced the Circuit Breaker period with strict rules to limit movement, enforced to curb the spread of the virus. During this period, apart from returning citizens or permanent residents of Singapore, there was tight control on people entering Singapore, to minimize importation of the virus. In terms of work and related pass applications, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) only processed applications for those based in Singapore. Applications for those based overseas were denied across the board during the period. Entry approvals were very limited resulting in work and related pass holders being “stranded” overseas, separated from family who were unable to return to Singapore.  

Although we have now exited the Circuit Breaker, the Singapore government is still cautiously resuming activities and re-opening the economy in phases to balance both the health and economic needs of the country. At this point, the following measures are still in effect:

  • Entry bans for short-term visitors
  • Entry approval needed for all residents who are non-Singapore citizens and/or permanent residents, including those who obtained in-principle approval for immigration passes
  • Pre-arrival health declarations
  • Stay Home Notice (SHN), either at a government dedicated facility or residence/self-arranged hotel, depending on recent travel history
  • COVID-19 PCR test prior to completion of the SHN


Impact of COVID on Singapore Economy: Fair Consideration Framework and Immigration Landscape

COVID-19 has also severely affected the Singapore economy. Following Budget 2020, the Singapore government successively announced the Resilience, Solidarity and Fortitude Budgets, with measures and policies focused on protecting jobs, enterprises and livelihoods, seeking to provide relief and support to businesses and Singaporeans.

In January 2020, the MOM enhanced the Fair Consideration Framework, with harsher penalties for non-compliance. Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, in early March 2020, the MOM announced the increase in the salary threshold for exemption to the job advertisement requirement under the Fair Consideration Framework. Given the current climate of challenging labor market conditions due to COVID-19, the government continued with efforts to protect the local labor market, to ensure that Singaporeans remain at the core of the workforce.


Looking Ahead

As Singapore looks to gradually re-open the economy and ease border restrictions, Singapore will continue discussions with other countries to establish “travel bubbles” to facilitate essential travel. Travel bubbles are exclusive arrangements between countries, which allow travel between two countries that have shown considerable success in controlling the virus.

Singapore first established a “Fast Lane” (Travel Bubble) arrangement with China for essential business and official travel between Singapore and six provinces/municipalities in China. More recently, it has been announced that cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia for essential/official travel and work under the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) will take effect on 10 August 2020.  Specific sets of rules will need to be adhered to for those travelling under these arrangements

Ongoing scrutiny by the MOM on adherence to rules and requirements under the Fair Consideration Framework will continue, especially with the government’s goal to protect a local workforce characterized by unprecedented job losses and business closures due to COVID-19. Employers must ensure they strictly comply with regulatory requirements or otherwise risk getting penalized, including being “blacklisted” and placed on the Watchlist, subject to additional scrutiny from the MOM.

For the foreseeable future, we should expect continuation of health-related protocols (i.e. declarations, tests and checks, etc.), quarantine measures and contact tracing as part of the standard immigration process for Singapore, and the need to navigate these rapidly changing requirements.

This blog is part of Fragomen’s APAC Insight Series, which aims to help navigate the uncertainties as borders reopen and remobilisation of workforce resumes. Please stay tuned for more regionally focused content. As the situation remains fluid, please feel free to reach out to Jenny Lee at [email protected] or your Fragomen immigration professional for additional guidance.


This blog was released on 6 August 2020, and due to the circumstances, there are frequent changes. To keep up to date with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our  COVID-19 microsite, subscribe to our alerts and follow us on  LinkedIn.