Singapore woos top foreign talent to drive tech goals

Singapore. Photo: Guo Xin Goh

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong argued the island nation must welcome foreign talent to realize its goal of becoming a technology center, while acknowledging the tensions this could foster with the local population.

The tiny country of 5.7 million must place technology, which proved instrumental in quelling Covid-19 this year, at the heart of its future development, Lee said in a keynote speech at the Singapore Tech Forum, an annual gathering for professionals from Silicon Valley to Asia.

A city-state with few natural resources but an open business climate, Singapore is trying to portray itself as a regional technology powerhouse backed by a supportive government. Under Lee, Singapore has sought to leverage these advantages to welcome foreign investment and global talent.

“We are trying to build a society which is different, where opportunities abound, where we make full use of tech and yet human spirits will flourish,” Lee said. “That requires the talents of Singaporeans, but also, we welcome talents from around the world to come and join us and help us build this society.”

On Tuesday Lee again touted the “Tech.Pass” program that aims to draw top talent to Singapore. The program will allow 500 highly qualified individuals — “the movers and shakers of the tech world” — to secure a new type of visa to start and operate more than one company and become an investor, consultant or mentor for local startups.

U.S. tech giants such as Google, Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce.com Inc. already regard Singapore as a springboard to the rest of Southeast Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing internet arenas. Chinese tech behemoths such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Bytedance Ltd. are also building up their presence in Singapore after setbacks in the U.S. and India.

While tensions between the U.S. and China exist, “we try our best to keep our links to both sides and to do business with both sides, with Alibaba and Tencent on one side, and FAANGs on the other side,” Lee said. “For now, it is possible, but whether going ahead it is possible, that depends on how well the U.S.-China relationships go.”

Lee said talent is crucial to Singapore’s future, but recognized the potential for friction between foreigners and locals. He argued that the influx of expertise builds the country’s overall capabilities and benefits all in the longer term.

The prime minister has been one of the most vocal global leaders calling for the world’s biggest economies to avoid a destructive clash that could force smaller countries like Singapore to choose sides on everything from trade and technology to Covid-19 vaccines and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. With its economy dependent on trade, Singapore supports a strong American presence in Asia by allowing the U.S. to use its military facilities, while also counting China as its top trading partner.

“We all want to work together with the U.S., we all want to work together with other vibrant economies, we would like to cooperate within the region,” Lee said in an interview with Bloomberg Editor-In-Chief John Micklethwait at the New Economy Forum this week. “I think not very many countries would like to join basically a coalition against those who have been excluded, chief of whom will be China.”

Lee’s administration is betting the technology industry can help invigorate the economy, which contracted 7% in the third quarter from a year earlier as unemployment climbed to its highest level since 2004. The government has pledged about S$100 billion ($74.4 billion) in stimulus across five aid packages.

Singapore has combined business-friendly policies with heavy investment in the tech sector. It has kept research and development spending at 1% of gross domestic product and allocated a S$19 billion budget for research, innovation and enterprise activities for a five-year period through 2020, up 18% from the previous five-year period.

Bloomberg

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.