Starting January 2012, young foreigners wanting to apply for the Q1 Employment Pass (EP) in Singapore will need to earn at least $3,000.
Older applicants will have to command an even higher salary to qualify for the same pass, which is one of three categories of EPs.
The Q1 Pass applicants will also have to be graduates from "good quality institutions", the Ministry of Manpower said in a press release on Tuesday.
Announcing details on the tightening of the employment pass framework, MOM said it is moving away from the present single qualifying salary of $2,800.
For the P2 Pass, another EP category, the qualifying salary will be raised from $4,000 to $4,500. There will be no change for the P1 Pass, which remains at $8,000.
MOM will still be allowed to consider applicants with a proven track record and exceptional skill sets but whom may not meet the qualifications required under the enhanced EP framework.
The measures seek to create a more level playing field between foreigners and locals vying for white-collar, professional jobs, Deputy Prime Minister and Manpower Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was reported as saying by The Straits Times on Tuesday.
"If we don’t make adjustments like this from time to time, what we will be happening is we are opening a wider gulf between EP holders’ salaries and local salaries and that is not good for an efficient labour market," he said.
He noted Singapore will continue to remain open and attractive to foreign talent but the government wants to ensure Singaporeans remain the core of the workforce.
Some 30,000 EP holders are likely to be affected by the tightening measures, said the DPM, who assured businesses that the move would translate to a 1-2 per cent increase in their remuneration bill as the measures are phased in.
According to MOM, the aim is to keep "foreign share of the workforce at about one-third".
The ministry said demand for EPs has "increased rapidly since the economic recovery in 2010 and is likely to keep growing".
"We are therefore introducing measures which tighten the eligibility requirements for those entering lower and mid-level professional, managerial and executive jobs," it said.
From June 2010 to June 2011, the numbers doubled from 14 per cent to 28 per cent. At the end of 2011, there were nearly 142,000 EP holders.
The qualifying salaries will be reviewed regularly to keep pace with the rising quality of the local workforce, said MOM, noting that the latest changes "amount to a significant shift in the EP framework".
For existing EP holders, MOM will phase in the new requirements over the next one to two years to give businesses the time to make adjustments.
Current EP holders whose passes expires before 1 January 2012, will get a one-time renewal of up to two years based on the pre-July 2011 EP criteria where the qualifying salary threshold was $2,500.
Those whose pass expires between 1 January 2012 and 30 June 2012 (both dates inclusive) will get a one-time renewal of up to one year on the existing EP criteria.
The tightened EP criteria will apply to those whose passes expire on or after 1 July 2012.
"At the end of the day, it is not going to mean a cutback in the overall size of the EP pass pool. It is not going to mean zero growth either. It will mean continued growth because the growing economy needs a growth in EP pass holders but it will be slower growth than what we have seen," said DPM Shanmugaratnam.
"Make no mistake about it, we got to keep attracting bright, capable people into Singapore, young and middle aged, and the steps we are taking here are not going to impact our ability to attract good young people."
Over the last two years, MOM raised the foreign worker levy and tighten levy tiers. The ministry also raised qualifying salaries for S Pass and EP.