Singapore tightens foreign worker rules, beefs up cyber security

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SINGAPORE (Feb 18): Singapore will tighten restrictions on foreign workers, strengthen cyber-security and boost health care support for its aging population, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his budget speech.

The government is allocating resources “to build a strong, united Singapore,” Heng said, with a focus on safety and security, building an innovative economy, providing support to citizens who need it, and making the city state a globally connected one.

Singapore’s government is seeking to strike a careful balance ahead of an election that could come as early as this year, bolstering an economy that’s been hit by weaker global demand, while still sticking to a tradition of fiscal prudence.

Here’s a look at what Heng has outlined so far in his budget speech:

Defense

Heng said about 30% of the budget will be spent on defense, security and diplomacy efforts, which was “significant, but indispensable”. Beyond the threat of physical attacks, the government is focusing on cyber security, and will set up an agency to beef up its capabilities.

Foreign Workers

In order to boost productivity in food and retail businesses and reduce the dependency on overseas workers for these jobs, the government will lower the quotas for foreign workers in the services sector, starting in 2020. To help firms adjust to the policies and to bolster training for Singaporean workers, certain grants were extended for three years. Foreign-worker levies in the marine sector were deferred for another year.

Innovation

As part of its efforts to build a high-skilled technology workforce and industry, the government outlined a range of measures to support start-ups and support small businesses going digital. These include an “Innovation Agents” program that will be set up for industry professionals to serve as mentors to Singapore firms on a two-year basis; an additional S$100 million (US$73.8 million) to be allocated to a fund meant to scale up Singapore firms and boost their presence abroad; and loans for small- and medium-sized enterprises will be simplified.

Elderly Support

For the large cohort of the population that came of age during Singapore’s independence era, the government announced an S$8 billion support package, giving seniors support in five areas: S$100 top-up for spending on community activities and public transport; an added S$200 each year for five years for personal healthcare needs; additional subsidies for outpatient care and on their premiums; and a S$1,500 incentive for participation in a long-term care financing program.