James Riley
February 23, 2016

Entrepreneur visa opens new doors

Entrepreneur visa opens new doors

Ed Husic: Has been out in front of the entrepreneur visa discussion

The creation of an entrepreneur visa was always a good idea. Australia has visa streams specifically designed to attract capital, and others to attract business and technical skills that are in short supply. So why not a visa to attract entrepreneurial talent?

People with ideas are not in short supply. But people with ideas that also combine the ability to build a business are in short supply everywhere. It is sensible that we make it as straight-forward and attractive as possible to attract such people to Australia where we can.

The Immigration Department has opened a public consultation on its proposed entrepreneur visa, which was put forward as part Malcolm Turnbull’s Innovation and Science Agenda last September.

The new visa is a provisional visa – four years is the current thinking – for individuals who have already raised capital and will start a business in Australia. It is to be established as a new stream within the existing Business Innovation and Investment visa (subclass 188) and (subclass 888) categories.

Government’s aim is to have these visa introduced by November.

The devil will be in the detail, and there are clearly contentious issues at play. For a start, the program wants to shoe-horn a talent acquisition program into what is effectively a capital acquisition visa class.

The program gets the cart before the horse by restricting the visa’s potential catchment pool to people who have already raised capital. It is the capital that is driving the process, more so than the talent.

That’s fine, up to a point. It enables VCs to import co-founders from overseas. Not that there is anything wrong with that – but it does shut off a large potential pool of entrepreneurial talent.

There are other complexities here, of course. Like how do you measure success? And who does the measuring? Can the entrepreneur pivot to a new idea mid-way through? And who would assess the value of that pivot?

By creating third-party evaluators – they might be VCs or accelerators – the program is conferring significant power to outsiders, particularly where capital has been raised offshore.

These are not insurmountable issues. But nor are they straight-forward. And at face value it does seem the use of 188 and 888 visas as the base framework for this program sets up a series of potential conflicts and may open the existing Significant Investor Visa scheme to abuse.

These are good problems to grapple with. Because an entrepreneur visa – a ‘startup’ visa – is a missing piece of our current business visa system.

Labor has taken a lead on this issue and has been talking up an entrepreneur visa for the best part of a year. One of the things Labor has proposed that not been picked-up by government is the establishment of student-focused entrepreneur schemes.

Foreign students represent a huge talent resource for Australia – especially in tertiary courses covering core STEM skills. Of course we want the best and brightest of these students to stay in Australia.

Shadow spokesman on Digital Innovation and Startups Ed Husic has been talking up the Labor policy, and is also putting forward ideas for a ‘mentor visa’ – on the assumption that Australia has a lot of catching up to do, and only a (relatively) small pool of mentors to do it.

“That’s one of the things that I want to discuss with startups is the establishment of a mentor visa, which aims to bring in people who have had success with their own startups overseas, and giving them the opportunity to come here, to stay for a while, and to help the local knowledge base,” Mr Husic told SkyNews.

Labor is also looking at ways of attracting some of the estimated 20,000 Australian expats in Silicon Valley back home. But Mr Husic figures most of them will ultimately find their way home anyway, and in a great many cases will bring new skills and wealth with them.

“This is a sector that is very fluid,” Mr Husic said. “The ideas and the people move around the globe, pick up experience and build wealth.”

“Yes it would be great to have some of those Australians come back. But I look at this as a glass half-full proposition – which is that they are over there right now building experience and wealth. And based on the conversations I have had with a lot of Aussies in Silicon Valley, they do see themselves coming back,” he said.

“But in the meantime, we have to have the ability to attract others here [through an entrepreneur visa] just as other countries are doing by attracting our talent," Mr Husic said.

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