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Australia eases skilled visa restrictions amid criticism

Move applauded by industry lobby group, but some emerging roles are missing from the list of skills covered by the Temporary Skill Shortage visa scheme

Australia’s immigration department has rejigged the country’s skilled visa programme in the wake of heavy criticism that followed major changes to the scheme in April.

The Australian government had scrapped what was known as the 457 skilled visa programme and created a new scheme called the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa.

The move was met with widespread concern, especially from the technology and university research sectors, which felt the TSS scheme would interrupt the flow of talent to Australia.

The new scheme removed a large number of previously eligible roles for the new two-year and four-year visa classes, and withdrew the option of permanent residency under the two-year scheme.

CEOs and CIOs – and other categories important to the tech sector, such as IT security specialists – were placed in the two-year category, making it harder to recruit overseas talent.

But now the Australian immigration department has had a change of heart.

“The government recognises the importance of enabling Australian businesses to tap into global talent to remain internationally competitive and support a strong national science and innovation agenda,” said Peter Dutton, minister for immigration and border protection.

Dutton’s department has now raised the visa tenure for many IT and senior management roles to four years. These include critically needed IT security specialists, as well as systems analysts and software engineers, among others.

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Alex McCauley, CEO of innovation industry lobby group StartupAUS, applauded the changes but said there was still work to be done.

“A range of cutting-edge digital and technology skills are not included in the list despite extensive input by the sector to the government’s consultation process,” he said.

These occupations included user experience and user interface designers, digital growth specialists and digital marketers, with job descriptions that were just coming to the attention of immigration officials, said McCauley.

“We have been talking to the Australian immigration department about this stuff for the last couple of months,” he told innovation policy site InnovationAus.com. “Obviously it hasn’t come through in this update to the skills list, which is a bit of shame.”

McCauley also wants the government to include equity compensation in the minimum salary imposed on companies that want to employ senior executives from overseas, noting that the startup sector often makes equity and options a large component of a manager’s package, rather than just a cash salary.

Leaving equity out of the picture made it harder for often cash-strapped startups to recruit offshore talent, he said.

The TSS scheme also requires Australian companies employing people from overseas under the skilled migration programme to pay a training levy to help skill up local talent.

Michael Biercuk, an experimental physicist and the primary investigator in the Quantum Control Laboratory at the University of Sydney, said the training levy made no sense for the university research sector because post-doctoral staff hired offshore were often employed to teach local PhD students and undergraduates, so were directly training the next generation of Australian scientists.

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