Singapore’s more flexible pandemic measures have made it an obvious destination for Hong Kong bankers looking to escape the Chinese government’s zero-Covid policy. A number of expats have moved to Singapore on a temporary basis so that they can continue to visit clients and manage their teams more easily, while western banks have considered moving staff on a more permanent basis.
The chief operating officer at one international bank said It was considering relocating its industry teams to Singapore on a full-time basis.
But there’s a hitch. With a small population of 5.6m, Singapore is keen to ensure that its banking jobs are offered to locals. This year it announced new minimum salaries and a “points-based” system for approving employment passes, Singapore’s visa for higher-earning professionals. The new rules require incoming finance professionals to earn at least S$5,500 ($4,050) a month. That’s less of an issue for Hong Kong bankers, but it reflects Singaporean authorities' desire for any job to be advertised to locals first.
The head of investment banking at one western firm said: “It’s getting increasingly difficult to hire foreigners in Singapore. It’s got to be a senior person with a specific skill set otherwise you can find someone in Singapore with those qualifications.
Thee are indications, too, that Singapore bankers find incomers slightly annoying. Eric Tan, a retired banker in Singapore, told the Financial Times recently that any teams relocating from Hong Kong should consider replacing expat staff with Singaporeans within two years. “We go into the workplace and find we are a minority,” complained Tan, a former HSBC employee. “The indigenous Singaporeans, the core Singaporeans, must benefit because this is their country. We must look after the core group.”
Singapore may look attractive as a short-term option for expats desperate to escape Hong Kong’s zero-Covid policy, but it is not the open economy that many would hope. Nor is it a great market from a revenue perspective. “There is not the deal-flow in South East Asia to justify a permanent move to Singapore. I’ve gone from taking 30 flights a year to zero, but I still need to be in China,” said one M&A banker.
Bankers based in Hong Kong believe the Covid situation will ease, but fret about its longer-term attractiveness, given Carrie Lam’s decision to step down as CEO of Hong Kong when her term ends on July 1. Her likely successor is John Lee, a former police officer who has been handpicked by the Chinese Communist party.
Another Hong Kong-based banker said he's looking to relocate until Hong Kong lifts its restrictions, but is worried the strict lockdown in Shanghai is the sign of tougher measures to come. People are prevented from leaving their houses, even to exercise pets. “Dogs are having to do their business inside. You can imagine what that’s like in a 600 square foot apartment,” said the banker. “What’s worrying a lot of people coming back to Hong Kong is that Carrie Lam and presumably John Lee are refusing to rule out a nationwide lockdown.”
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