Singapore to soon announce new initiatives to attract top foreign talent

SINGAPORE will launch new initiatives to attract top foreign talent, particularly for key sectors, as it ramps up efforts to build a world-class talent pool, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).

Without giving details, PM Lee said that the Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and economic agencies “will soon announce” new initiatives to achieve this. “We want to make top talent everywhere sit up, pay attention and think seriously about coming to Singapore.”

While the country already has schemes to attract and retain top talent, especially in the technology industry, it needs to do more, especially in sectors with “good potential”, said PM Lee.

Noting that other countries are also making an effort to court top international talent, he cited Germany’s recent move to allow skilled foreign professionals to live there before securing a job, and the United Kingdom’s new special visa for graduates from 50 of the world’s top universities — including Singapore’s own National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

“If we can get the people we want to come here, it will really help Singapore to shine brightly as a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth,” said PM Lee. “And it will make our own talent want to stay in Singapore, to participate in building a dynamic and outstanding nation.”

To show how foreign expertise can help in developing homegrown talent, PM Lee pointed to the biomedical sector, which is thriving today thanks to efforts in the 1990s to bring in top names. These foreign scientists, researchers and engineers trained and mentored local talents. The latter have since matured and are conducting cutting-edge research and development, with some leading their own teams and others founding start-ups, he noted.

Singapore’s biomedical sector now employs 25,000 workers and contributes almost a fifth of Singapore’s manufacturing gross domestic product. During Covid-19, both Singaporean and non-Singaporean researchers here made significant contributions.

“Had we not sought out top talent 30 years ago, and then continued to build up our biomedical research teams and activities, and develop homegrown talent, all this would never have happened,” said PM Lee. “ This is the difference that top talent can make.”

While acknowledging Singaporeans’ concerns about the impact of large numbers of foreigners living and working here, he stressed that the government is working to ease these worries. While managing the overall population of foreign professionals, however, the country must not stop seeking top talent.

Amid the current troubled times, Singapore has a “window of opportunity” as talented individuals look for places where “they and their families feel safe and welcome”, while businesses want to invest in places “where the talent is” and “where the politics and policies are stable, and where the system works”.

“We must seize this opportunity to secure Singapore’s place in the post-Covid world,” he said.

Building a world-class talent pool is one of 3 “enduring imperatives” that PM Lee has set out for Singapore as it charts its future, alongside strengthening its national identity and staying open and connected to the world. He hoped that Singaporeans would gain an appreciation of these imperatives through the recently launched Forward Singapore exercise.