What is COMPASS and what you should know?

As of September 1, 2023, there will be a new way to decide if foreign professionals can work in Singapore. Businesses need to start getting their applications ready.

The Complementary Assessment Framework, or COMPASS, was introduced by Singapore's Ministry of Finance in the 2022 Budget Statement. It is the most important change to the process of getting a work pass in Singapore in recent years.

This framework will decide if high-value foreign professionals, like scientists and researchers, managers, specialists, and trade workers who will add to our workforce and help the economy grow and innovate, are allowed to come to the United States.

It is also meant to make Singapore's workforce stronger by giving companies more information and making it easier for them to hire foreign professionals to work with their local workers.

The two stages of COMPASS

Stage 1: Qualifying salary (the candidate must earn at least SGD10,000/month)

Stage 2: Points-based immigration system - COMPASS (the candidate must earn at least 40 points)

Applicants must pass COMPASS by getting at least a certain number of points based on their own and the company's needs. To pass COMPASS, applicants must get at least 40 points. These points can come from a mix of foundational criteria and bonus criteria.

To pass COMPASS, applicants will need to earn at least 40 points by meeting 4 foundational criteria and 2 bonus criteria based on several individual and company criteria. Points will be given based on the following:

  • Do not meet expectations: 0 points
  • Meet expectations: 10 points
  • Exceed expectations: 20 points

For example, a candidate can pass if they get 20 points on the basic criteria and 20 points on the bonus criteria. If a candidate falls short in one area, they can make up for it in another.

COMPASS foundational criteria

The foundational criteria are an individual's salary and qualifications, as well as the firm's workforce diversity and support for local employment.

Individual’s Salary

Applicants earn points by meeting sector-specific benchmarks for local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET) salaries.

Points allocation:

  • Below 65 percentile: 0 points
  • 65 – 90 percentile: 10 points
  • ≥90 percentile: 20 points

Assessment will be based on business activity declared to the Accounting Corporate and Regulatory Authority (ACRA) and further information will be released by September 2023.

For example, a candidate whose salary is at the 70th percentile compared to local PMET salaries in their sector will be able to score 10 points.

Individual’s Qualifications

It is not a mandatory requirement under COMPASS.

Points allocation:

  • No degree-equivalent qualification: 0 points
  • Degree-equivalent qualification: 10 points
  • Top-tier institution (top 100 universities based on international rankings, Singapore’s autonomous universities and highly recognised vocational institutions): 20 points

Firm’s Diversity

It checks to see if the applicant makes the company more diverse in terms of nationalities. 

Candidates can get more points if their nationality makes up a small portion of the employer's PMETs. 

The Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) records show an applicant's nationality based on their passport. MOM's requirements for PMET are that the worker must make at least 3,000 SGD per month.

Points allocation:

  • Less than or equal to 25%: 0 points 
  • 5-25%: 10 points 
  • Less than 5%: 20 points 

If the applicant's employer has less than 25 PMETs, they automatically get 10 points. 

Also, an applicant will get at least 10 points if their employer's share of local PMET workers is at least 70%, which is the 20th percentile of all employers in the economy. 

This is true no matter where an employer stands in their subsector, and there is a way to make sure that companies in subsectors with a lot of local PMETs don't get punished.

COMPASS Bonus Criteria

Skills Bonus

Applicants can get 20 points if their job is on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) and requires highly specialised skills. 

The SOL hasn’t been finalised yet, but it may include roles related to information and communications that help Singapore's digitalization drive. 

It is due to be ready in March 2023.

To encourage diversity, applicants will only get 10 points if at least 1/3 of the employer's PMETs are from their country.

Strategic Economic Priorities Bonus

Applicants can get 10 points if their employer meets certain assessment criteria for innovation or internationalism activities. 

Employers must also take part in certain programmes run by different economic agencies or meet certain assessment criteria by showing they are committed to improving the local workforce or ecosystem. 

And in March 2023, a list of government programmes, their eligibility requirements, and how to apply will be made public.

Are there any exemptions from the COMPASS requirement?

Employers can get out of meeting COMPASS requirements if at least one of the following three conditions is met:

  1. Makes a fixed salary of at least 20,000 SGD a month;
  2. Applying as an overseas intra-corporate transferee under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services or an applicable Free Trade Agreement that Singapore is a part of; or 
  3. Filling a short-term role (e.g. 1 month or less)

What can HR do today?

The COMPASS introduction shows companies and HR how important it is for Singapore to find a balance between protecting the local workforce and making it more diverse. 

HR and companies can start by undergoing training to learn about the COMPASS principles, figure out what needs to be improved and how to fix it, and analyse and review the workforce ratio and diversity.

Then, they can take steps to measure and compare performance in the third and fourth foundational criteria, which are about diversity and helping local PMETs. 

On the enhanced Employer Data Portal (EDP) on myMOM Portal, employers will be able to see how their local PMET share compares to their peers in the same industry.

Since the Employment Pass Framework has changed in a big way, it is up to HR to start looking at their hiring and global mobility processes right away. 

Start to look for PMETs among employees who earn at least 3,000 SGD because they meet criteria 3 and 4. (diversity and support for local PMETs). 

It's important to know this because employers with less than 25 PMETs will automatically get 10 points for both foundation 3 and 4, for a total of 20 points (accounting for half the total number of points needed to pass COMPASS).

In Conclusion

COMPASS tries to find a middle ground between having the right number of foreign professionals and making sure that qualified Singaporeans don't lose their jobs to foreigners.

Given that this is the first iteration, we can expect the framework to be refined overtime as real-case situations meet pre-written textbook solutions.

But the transparency will be a good step forward as everyone will have the same goal post to aim at and be on equal rules to attract the best possible talent for the organisations.

If you are keen to strengthen your knowledge in Singapore's labour law, join our two-day IHRP accredited short course on Employment Legislation & Industrial Relations.