Singapore blocks visas for Indian IT professionals

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NEW DELHI: Even as visa issues with its largest markets continue to trouble the Indian IT industry, Singapore has also added to the industry’s woes, by keeping several applications for work permits on hold since last year. At the heart of the matter are three main issues — since 2014, the Singapore government has increased the minimum salary for eligibility to apply for a job in Singapore, it then asked companies to advertise jobs locally, before applying for a work permit Since February 2016, it has been withholding decisions on work permit applications of Indian companies.

“Since last year or so work permit approvals for most of the Indian companies has come down to a trickle. And this is hurting our companies badly. Businesses need predictability and consistency which has been lacking on the people mobility issue,” Gagan Sabharwal, director, Global Trade Development, Nasscom.

All of India’s top IT services companies, including Tata Consultancy Services, InfosysBSE 0.38 %, WiproBSE 0.56 % and HCL, have a presence in Singapore, with some of them having set shop in the 1980s. Others include Mindtree, Larsen & Toubro Infotech, NIIT Technologies, Tech Mahindra and ITC Infotech.

Singapore and India have a formal trade agreement called the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), which was signed in 2005. Singapore insisted that Indian workers undergo an economic needs test, which “conditions market access upon the fulfilment of certain economic criteria,” according to the WTO. However, under CECA, India as a trading partner does not need to undergo this test.

Cancelling visa requests would also constitute a violation, and hence, Singapore has been sitting on visa applications from Indian IT firms. ET learns that nearly 200 applications have been put on a “watch list” since last year, with the Singapore government taking no action on the visa status.

“Many companies have been waiting endlessly for a response on their applications for many months. Singapore is considered as the easiest place for doing business in the world but for us it ..

“Many companies have been waiting endlessly for a response on their applications for many months. Singapore is considered as the easiest place for doing business in the world but for us it has become one of the most difficult places to do business because of the current policy of not allowing intra-company transferees visas,” said Sabharwal.

According to industry estimates, Indian workers on work permits constitute about 7,000-10,000 of the population of Singapore. Nasscom is working with the Indian government as it reviews the CECA with Singapore, even as several IT companies consider moving out of the region because of loss of business and opportunity.