Singapore today sought to defend its visa regime, saying that one-third of its workforce is “already foreign” and it would be “mindless” to have open border without any policy framework to control the flow of people. The statement of Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam assumes significance as Indian IT companies use that country as a gateway to serve clients in the region. All major Indian tech companies including TCS, HCL, Infosys and Wipro have a presence in Singapore. With Singapore taking a conservative view of visa issuance to Indian tech workers, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of manpower. Observing that out of 5.5 million workforce, 2 million are foreigners, Shanmugaratnam said as “one-third of our workforce is already foreign, it would be mindless if you have open borders without any policy framework to constrain the flow of people into your job market. If it is wrong politics, then it is wrong economics as well”.
He is here to participate in the Delhi Economics Conclave. Singapore, he said, has been the strongest proponents of liberalisation of goods and services but movement of people has to operate within some framework of constraint. “This is a reality. This is reality all over the globe,” the deputy prime minister said. IT body Nasscom had in April stated that the clamp down on tech visas by Singapore has shrunk the base of Indian techies to under 10,000 in the South East Asian nation and could hurt the ability of players to chase future deals. Nasscom President R Chandrashekhar had said that issuance of visas to the tech workers under the intra company transfers has reduced to a trickle.
Indian companies have been investing in Singapore to bolster their presence in the Asian market that has been growing at a strong pace, although US and Europe continue to account for over 80 per cent of the industry’s export revenues. India and Singapore have already implemented a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA). It has been operational since 2005. Singapore is also part of the Asean bloc, with which India has signed a similar pact. Both the countries are also part of the ongoing negotiations for a proposed mega deal – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The bilateral trade between the two was USD 16.65 billion in 2016-17