Singapore has moved to rejuvenate its appeal to entrepreneurs by making key changes to its work visa system, in a move described as “a smart initiative” by a leading HR and business development expert.

The changes to the EntrePass work visa programme were announced in August. A central plank of the new visa requirements is the removal of the paid-up capital requirement (SGD$50,000) and, by extension, the intention that the value of global startup talent will not be measured by monetary contribution alone. Other factors, such as knowhow and relevance to individual industries, will also be taken into consideration.

In addition, the evaluation criteria has been broadened and made less stringent. Before the rule changes, there was a requirement for an immediate 30 per cent shareholding and registration for private limited companies; this has now been deferred until the end of year one.

The validity period of each EntrePass has been extended from one to two years in order to provide more certainty to global startup talent, facilitating longer-term strategic business planning and giving them more time to build their businesses in Singapore.

Applicants will be assessed on a wider range of innovation criteria to allow global startup talent to enter Singapore with government support during the exploration stage. Crucially, applicants will need to satisfy just one of a larger number of criteria.

The new benchmarks include: having a business network and entrepreneurial track record; a record of “extraordinary” achievements in key areas of expertise; and having an investment track record.

"It’s a smart initiative. Singapore sees its future as going from accountants and bankers to people working in hi-tech and scientific companies, and this initiative is in keeping with that,” said Dr Bob Aubrey, senior advisor for Asia to the European Foundation for Management Development and the chairman of the HR committee for the European Chamber of Commerce.

The relaxation of requirements is a means to encourage outside investment, said Aubrey. “It's a quid pro quo. The Singaporean government will give you advantages and try to attract you but there are expectations attached to that. The overriding priority is to hire Singaporeans, train Singaporeans and promote Singaporeans,” he said.

Foreign entrepreneurs and investment are vital because of Singapore's business size and culture, he suggested. “They are trying to stimulate companies in Singapore to expand. This is a small country, with no big internal market, and costs are high. The government has really studied what can happen to the core jobs they have. With artificial intelligence, those jobs could get replaced by machines and that would do a lot of damage to the economy,” said Aubrey.

The move also reflected the Singaporean government's recognition that its education culture has stymied innovation. “The education system is one in which you are taught not to colour outside the box rather than show imagination. You don't take risks. A consequence of that is a lack of entrepreneurship,” he added.

The new visa process would be kept under close review, Aubrey added. “The civil service is agile, so they will respond quickly to what people want.”

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