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Australia pilots visa scheme to ease talent crunch

The Global Talent Scheme follows the government’s move to scrap the 457 visa, but industry watchers say smaller companies will struggle to meet its salary threshold

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Australia will pilot a visa programme for a year to attract scarce innovation and technology skills to the country.

From July 2018, businesses with revenues of more than A$4m will be able to sponsor IT professionals commanding salaries above A$180,000 for a four-year visa under the Global Talent Scheme.

Businesses will need to show that they still prioritise Australian workers, and that there will be some skills transfer to local workers by the sponsored individual. Science and technology startups will also be able to sponsor experienced people for four years under the Temporary Skill Shortage visa.

In both visa programmes, individuals may apply for permanent residence after three years in Australia.

“Industry figures say globally, mobile, highly skilled and experienced staff can act as ‘job multipliers’ in Australian businesses, helping them to hire more local staff and fill critical areas of need,” said Australia’s minister for jobs and innovation, Michaelia Cash.

The Global Talent Scheme comes on the heels of a move by the federal government a little under a year ago that shocked the IT industry.

In April 2017, the government announced – with no warning – that it would axe the 457 visa scheme being used by 9,000 IT professionals in Australia. Those changes were scheduled to come into effect this month.

In the wake of heavy criticism over the move, the government raised the visa tenure for many IT and senior management roles to four years under the replacement Temporary Skill Shortage visa. These include critically needed IT security specialists, as well as systems analysts and software engineers, among others.

While the new Global Talent Scheme may feel like a stay of execution for IT workers using the 457 visa, they have endured a year of uncertainty.

Local technology companies – in particular software giant Atlassian – have strongly argued for a rethink on skilled immigration policies. The need for a targeted immigration plan was also a recommendation of the recently released report from Innovation and Science Australia (ISA).

That report noted that “Australia’s innovation investment and talent can be strengthened by improving access to global talent pools and fostering greater gender and ethnic diversity”.

In 2015-16, the net inflow of ICT workers to Australia was 20,700 people, or just 3% of the overall ICT workforce. The ISA report had called for skilled migration to be streamlined and simplified, and to also extend that to the entrepreneur-class visa.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has welcomed the pilot scheme as a means to help address the local tech skills shortage. According to the 2017 digital pulse report from ACS, Australia will face a shortfall of 81,000 workers in the ICT sector over next four years.

“The future for our economy will involve organisations in fast-paced high-tech industries, and employers often need to fill specialised positions and sometimes are unable to find Australian workers for the positions,” said ACS president Yohan Ramasundara.

“As we continue to push for greater development of our local skilled workforce, we cannot afford to let growth stagnate. Therefore, a sensible approach to skilled migration in the technology sector is crucial,” he added.

Ramasundara said the Global Talent Scheme will provide larger organisations with clarity as they seek to innovate and evolve, while startups will have access to new methods of attracting overseas talent.

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Some quarters in the IT industry, however, have questioned the scheme’s focus on larger companies and startups, leaving small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the cold.

According to Ryan Murtagh, CEO and founder of Neto, an Australian technology and retail management software company, many SMEs employed people under the previous 457 visa scheme. These firms, he said, will likely struggle with the A$180,000 threshold.

“From our experience, there are many great people globally who are willing to earn a lot less than $180,000 per annum to enjoy the lifestyle opportunity that Australia offers. This programme does not support the SME sector, which makes up the large majority of the Australian business landscape,” said Murtagh.

Additional reporting by Aaron Tan

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