The unemployment rate in Singapore is the highest in 10 years.
According to the Ministry of Labor (MOM), unemployment rose from 2.4 percent in the first quarter to 2.9 percent in the second quarter of this year.
Of the total number of unemployed, over 90,500 people were unemployed, of whom 79,600 were Singaporean citizens.
Companies from Singapore's national airline, Singapore Airlines, to startups like GoBear, have implemented austerity measures to cut costs and keep their businesses alive.
In other words, there is currently a shortage of jobs in the market.
More recently, the Ministry of Labor (MOM) has also raised the minimum salaries for hiring foreigners on work cards.
The base salary for newly hired ID card holders was increased from September 1 to S $ 4,500 from the original S $ 3,900, while the qualifying salary for new S Pass holders was increased from S $ 2,400 to S $ 2,500 on October 1.
This has created a number of problems for Singapore international graduates, shedding light on the issue of job security and bond breaking for this group of people.
Required to work in Singapore, but no jobs are available
National Technological University (NTU) Careers Fair in 2016 / Photo credit: NTU via Twitter
Foreign students in Singapore who have received a study grant from the Ministry of Education (MOE) are required to take out a three-year bond with a Singaporean company upon graduation.
The tuition fee program was introduced by the government in 1980 to subsidize the cost of higher education for students enrolled in full-time undergraduate or undergraduate programs.
However, with even local graduates struggling to secure full-time jobs, foreign graduates face a growing problem.
Unlike scholarships, the tuition fee program does not guarantee its recipients a public service job.
Graduates are expected to secure employment on their own after graduation and to do so within one year.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the depressed job market, many months have been unsuccessful looking for work.
Now these foreign graduates are worried that they will have to repay the flat-rate damage.
The liquidated damages are calculated on the basis of the total amount of the scholarship that the student has received plus an annual interest of 10 percent calculated at the end of each academic year.
The final amount can range from S $ 80,000 to over S $ 100,000.
Additionally, many find that their savings are depleted quickly after having to factor in the daily cost of living and rent with no streams of income.
MOE "Active monitoring" of the situation
Photo credit: Which school counselor?
According to The Straits Times, MOE said international students should turn to their universities for help in case they have trouble meeting their borrowing requirements.
The MOE recognizes that international students must meet their tuition fee obligations, and we are working with universities and other public bodies to make it easier for them to apply for the required work cards while respecting the fair deliberation framework.
– A spokesman for the Department of Education in an interview with The Straits Times
The ministry also declined to provide the number of overseas students under the program.
It is also unclear what will happen to students if they fail to find work after repeated attempts.
If international graduates cannot find a job after one year, they traditionally have to inform the MOE and provide evidence of their job search.
A 24-year-old graduate from the National University of Singapore who wanted to be known only as Sarah told Vulcan Post that she had been sending applications since May, a month before graduating.
She has now submitted almost a hundred applications without receiving a positive answer.
In addition, the SGUnited Traineeship Program for recent graduates stipulates that the trainees must be Singaporean citizens or permanent residents.
Many employers have switched their entry-level jobs to internships, which closes another time window for foreign students.
With the government helping to fund 80 percent of a local student's allowance, employers are even less likely to hire a foreign student.
The science graduate said she was getting "more desperate" every day, and so did her other international friends.
Although she started freelancing to make ends meet and stretch her dollars, she is concerned about what the result would be if she couldn't find a job within a year.
However, she also understands that the situation she is in is unprecedented and that the pandemic has made it even more difficult to find jobs.
“Of course, neither of us could have predicted that this would be the economic situation four years ago when I started university in Singapore. At the moment I can only apply for jobs, ”she said.
A surge in anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore
Sarah also shared that she understands that some Singaporeans are angry with foreign students or talent like her.
The Straits Times spoke to 10 foreign students, most of whom were not named for fear of creating more feelings towards foreigners.
In the same report, a Vietnamese architecture graduate said she "heard some of her Singaporean friends blame foreigners for not getting first choice for a job."
A quick look through the Facebook comments on TodayOnline's articles on the topic reveals a multitude of negative comments directed at overseas students.
Photo credit: The TodayOnline Facebook page
Why does Singapore need foreign students at all?
Photo credit: NUS International Students Campaign via Facebook
Last year then Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced that around S $ 108 million is spent on tuition fees for international students every year.
However, these expenses are not free as foreign students bring benefits to Singaporean students.
Diversity is important, especially given Singapore's strong globalization.
When classes have a mix of local and international students, Singaporean students are exposed to new insights and understandings of the world.
This is exactly the reason why many Singaporean students travel overseas for a study semester during their studies.
Luo Jiali and David Jamieson-Drake of Duke University conducted a 2013 study that showed that students who had a high level of interaction with international peers "reported a significantly higher level of development".
Given the interconnectedness of countries, the relationships of local students with international countries are likely to open doors to job opportunities and business relationships abroad.
After studying in Singapore, international students may also be more likely to invest or start a business in Singapore, resulting in more jobs and greater economic growth overall.
In fact, the co-founders of some highly funded and domestic startups in Singapore were overseas born.
No zero-sum game
Ultimately, having international university students in Singapore isn't a zero-sum game, and that doesn't mean that locals can't take advantage of the same opportunities.
In 2019, then Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that no Singaporean student would ever be evicted from college because of a foreign student.
If we send all of our international students back, we will lose the opportunity for Singaporean students to build connections and bridges with students from other countries and expand their network of friends. This is an increasingly important aspect of education as we work in a globalized, multicultural world.
– Then Education Minister Ong Ye Kung speaks in Parliament in 2019
Minister Ong also pointed out that the best universities in the world – Oxford, Yale and the like – all have diverse and international student bodies.
Given Singapore's prominent role in the global education network and the benefits overseas students can bring to the island, that hardly means Singaporeans will reach the short end of the bar.
Selected image source: NUS class from 2017, NUS news