A trial visa program helping Australian tech companies attract skilled overseas workers has been made permanent by the federal government following a 12-month pilot.
The Global Talent-Employer Sponsored (GTES) program (formerly the Global Talent Scheme) has been made a permanent program by the federal government after 23 companies signed up to it during a trial in the last financial year.
But a number of issues with the scheme, including high costs for early-stage startups and a requirement to advertise the position locally that led to slow uptake with the scheme have been left unchanged by government.
The GTES, which was launched to placate an irate tech sector following the scrapping of the 457 visa in 2017, offers fast-tracked visas for up to four years with a permanent residency pathway.
The GTES is split into two streams, one for startups with annual turnover of less than $4 million, and another for established businesses. Larger companies can access up to 20 visas per year while startups can apply for up to five.
Companies have to first be approved under the GTES scheme and can then apply for a fast-tracked visa under the Temporary Skills Shortage category, with an aim for them to be approved within two weeks.
The pilot was extended when the trial came to an end at the start of July while the Department of Home Affairs conducted a review.
That review, and the decisions about making the scheme permanent, are understood to have been made weeks ago, although Immigration Minister David Coleman held back an announcement until after it was dropped to the Australian Financial Review.
“The pilot showed the GTES has strong support from industry and highlighted the economic benefits of recruiting overseas talent directly to Australian businesses,” Mr Coleman said.
“These highly-skilled overseas workers bring with them unique skills and knowledge that are transferred to Australian businesses, allowing for the creation of further jobs for Australians.”
The government said that 23 agreements in total were entered into with companies under the GTES in its first year, with only five issued under the startup stream. Qualifying companies in its first year include Atlassian, Canva, SafetyCulture, Cochlear and Rio Tinto.
The scheme was slow to get going, with the first company not approved until October, and the first startup in March.
The department does not appear to have made any changes to the GTES from its pilot program, leaving many issues that contributed to its slow uptake.
A core issue for early-stage businesses has been the costs associated with applying for an agreement and visa under the scheme. Startups have to pay a government fee and contribute to the Skilling Australia Fund levy, an upfront cost of $1200 per year for each year the visa runs.
This means that a four year startup for a small startup could cost up to $7,575 for an individual, and more if they are bringing a partner or children.
But the government said that it’s important that companies applying for a visa under the scheme contribute to the costs of training local workers up to apply for similar positions in the future.
There are also concerns around the companies having to advertise for the position locally for at least one month before applying for a visa, leading to costly delays for startups.
It’s understood that the industry was first lobbying for the GTES to be made permanent and would now seek a series of changes to make it more enticing for tech companies, including better promotion from the government.
Industry Minister Karen Andrews said the extension of the GTES would help local tech companies combat the growing skills gap, but the private sector needs to step up to address this issue directly.
“We do have to recognise that there are some key skills shortages here in Australia, and that problem is not going to be solved by government alone,” Ms Andrews told ABC RN Breakfast on Wednesday morning.
“I will be calling on the tech companies and the broader industry to step up as well – what are they doing to help create the pipeline of talent that we need? Are they engaging young people? Are they supporting them through talent and development? Are they out there promoting the jobs of the future so they can excited people into the tech sector?
“This is not a problem that government is able to fix without significant engagement from industry and the researchers.”
Tech Visa director Sam Bricknell, who has worked with a number of companies that have been approved under the scheme, said its extension would allow for “more time to refine it as a solution to ensure it achieves what they initially intended”.
“There have been higher levels of interest in the second half of the pilot – with more education around the benefits of using it there will hopefully be a bigger uptake this year,” Mr Bricknell told InnovationAus.com.
“If there are a number of companies that start to request access to the same skillset, then over time Home Affairs will realise that there are new job types that need to be added to the main list,” she said.
“Being able to access these skill sets and offer longer term permanent residency options for people will help in attracting the right talent if people can’t be found locally.”
Before being approved under the startup stream, a tech company has to be ticked off by the government-appointed Startup Advisory Panel, with members including representatives from StartupAus and LaunchVic.
StartupAus chief executive and advisory panel chair Alex McCauley welcomed the continuation of the GTES.
“This is solid policy and the continuation of the scheme is a sign that the government is listening to startups and the recommendations we have been putting forward,” Mr McCauley said.
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