The Australian tech industry has largely welcomed a new visa scheme which could give migrant workers permanent residency in Australia after just three years.
On the face of it, the new visa, issued through the Global Talent Scheme on a trial basis, allays some of the industry’s significant concerns about the abolition of the 457 visa scheme, which ended yesterday.
Many tech leaders, notably Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, have campaigned against the Federal Government’s plans to abolish the 457 visa scheme since April last year, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced it would be replaced with the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa.
Among the reforms, the TSS visa notably would “significantly condense” the occupation list used for 457s, tighten English language requirements, and, under the short-term stream, allow just one onshore visa renewal.
The impact, according to the fourth annual Crossroads Report by national advocacy group StartupAUS, was immediate.
By December 2017, it had noted that less than half as many visas were issued in the third quarter of 2017 compared to the same three months last year.
Uncertainty about how much and what kinds of work were available, and how long they could stay, was seen to be a major concern for overseas talent considering a move to Australia.
Around a quarter of Atlassian’s 1000-strong Australian workforce are on 457 temporary migration visas.
Co-founder Scott Farquhar said as skill sets in technology businesses change rapidly, “access to a high quality, dynamic skilled visa system is therefore of fundamental importance in building a fast-growing company in this space”.
But Australia’s Department of Finance has concerns about the take-up of local uni IT graduates in the tech industry. In a recent report, it found work for graduates was harder to find in 2017 than it was in 2008.
Part of the problem, it reported, was the “increasing reliance on the use of 457 visa holders by businesses”.
The scheme officially ended yesterday, and with it, the numbers of workers allowed into Australia each year fell from 130,000 to 70,000.
But in what is being seen as a nod to the tech industry’s concerns in particular, an “open-ended” number of new visa will be issued through the Global Talent Scheme on a trial basis.
It will run for 12 months, and according to a report in the Australian Financial Review, will be available to companies that generate more than $4 million a year in revenue and can pay employees more than $180,000 a year.
Applications will be individually vetted, and the scheme axes the list of occupations covered in the TSS entirely.
That, according to the AFR, is to enable tech companies to “import skills the government doesn’t know they need”.
Tim Bos, co-founder of ShareRing, said one of the issues it faced was in finding people with a lot of experience in the areas of blockchain, telematics and sensors.
“But if we are given the option to hire this talent from overseas, it would be hugely beneficial to our knowledge growth and overall business prosperity.”
“This is a great opportunity to bring highly skilled and experienced labour into Australia and to utilise that labour to pass knowledge on to our junior staff, who are often hired straight out of university.”
The need for individual approvals, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge said, was “to make sure business is fair dinkum in terms of the applications”.
The biggest and most welcome change, however, is the scheme will allow workers to apply for Australian residency after three years.
StartupAUS CEO Alex McCauley said the changes were “a breakthrough” for high growth tech companies.
“Being able to access the right kind of talent quickly is the core challenge for fast-growing technology companies and startups in Australia,” he said.
“These changes should help young Australian tech businesses compete more effectively on the global stage. That will allow them to grow quickly and hire more Australians across the business.
“It’s a good bet that everyone hired on one of these visas will be a net job creator for Australians.”
McCauley added that including equity in salary considerations for startups was a step forward, saying StartUp Aus had been “making the case for a long time that startups need to be treated a bit differently in situations like this”.
“When you’re looking at how much startups are prepared to pay people, you have to take equity into account. Just about every startup in the world uses equity as a lever to help attract top talent, so you can’t ignore it.
“The government has listened to us on that one, which is a very positive sign.”