On poaching HK tech talent and companies

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Australia will introduce a range of incentives in an effort to attract high-growth export companies from Hong Kong and will fast-track special talent tech visas from the country.

Following more than a year of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong over the rising influence of China’s central government, Beijing recently introduced national security laws in the country, leading Australia to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

The Australian government sees the situation as an opportunity to attract entrepreneurs and investors to either travel to Australia or remain in the country, and to entice high-potential companies to relocate here.

Hong Kong, City, Day, China
Targeting talent: New tech visa aimed at talented Hong Komg

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the government would be prioritising Global Talent Scheme visa applications from Hong Kong, and introducing a range of incentives for companies with regional headquarters in Hong Kong to relocate to Australia, along with visas and a pathway to residency for staff-members.

The government will also offer student and temporary skilled visa holders from Hong Kong already in Australia a further five years in Australia and a new pathway to permanent residency.

Hong Kong has a thriving tech sector, StartupAus chief executive Alex McCauley said, and this move could have a “significant positive impact for Australia”.

“Obviously what’s happening in Hong Kong is really challenging. But if we look at the decision to welcome more Hong Kong residents to Australia through a purely economic lens, there could be some real advantages,” Mr McCauley told InnovationAus.

“Hong Kong has a thriving tech startup ecosystem – it consistently performs at around the same level as Sydney in rankings like Startup Genome’s global startup ecosystem report. Hong Kong does particularly well when you look at talent measures around tech and startups,” he said.

“The people we’re reaching out to, the people who might think about relocating to Australia or extending their stay here are potentially really valuable additions to our fast-growing technology sector.”

The Global Talent temporary visa scheme is on offer for highly talented individuals, specifically in tech. Any application from Hong Kong will now be fast-tracked, Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said.

“We’ll be prioritising applicants from Hong Kong for that scheme and providing some additional resources there as well to target those particular individuals who are real job-multiplying people, who create businesses, who are entrepreneurs, who have that tech talent that the world is looking for. And they will then have a permanent residency visa to enable them to come into the country,” Mr Tudge told the media on Thursday.

A dedicated officer will focus on the Hong Kong caseload, with the visa application centre in the country reopened after shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is also a “great opportunity” to look to attract some of the estimated 1000 international businesses with a regional headquarters in Hong Kong, Mr Tudge said.

“We know that many have already signalled that they’re looking to relocate elsewhere in the world. And we want them to look at Australia, to come to, and set up shop,” he said.

“So we’ll be developing incentives for them to do so, but with that a package of visas as well, so that all the critical staff can come and potentially relocate in one of our cities or a region, and be able to get pathways to permanent residency.

“These companies will be looking elsewhere, so we’ll need to be competitive, but that’s what we’re going to be looking at and developing those incentives over the next period, the next few weeks. There is so much talent in Hong Kong, there are great businesses. And we know that many individuals now might be looking elsewhere, because they do want to be in a freer country, they want to be in a democratic country, and we want to make it attractive for that super talent to consider Australia and that’s what these measures do.”

While there’s unlikely to be much movement on these initiatives during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong citizens currently in Australia on student or temporary skill visas will now be able to stay for a further five years, with a pathway to permanent residency.

There are an estimated 600 Hong Kong residents currently in Australia on a temporary skilled visa. Future applicants will also be eligible for the five-year extension, but they will have to meet the occupational skills list and labour market testing requirements.

“We are not expecting large numbers of applicants any time soon. What we are doing is extending the opportunity for those visas out to five years in total and looking to recruit, if you like, other businesses that may become footloose as a result of the changes that have occurred in Hong Kong,” Mr Morrison said.

“I imagine that there will be many other countries in the region and around the world that would indeed be seeking to attract those businesses to Australia and talent applications as well, as they make their own decisions about where they wish to live in the future,” he said.

“Australia will be part of that group of countries which will be both encouraging, welcoming and taking steps to ensure we’re actively engaging.”

Australian Investment Council chief executive Yasser El-Ansary said the move would help the Australian tech sector address its gaping talent gap.

“Australia currently has skills and talent gaps that need to be filled as a priority to help accelerate our economic recovery. In the private capital sector specifically, talent and skills gaps exist in a multitude of areas such as C-suite leadership roles, as well as technical and specialist roles in engineering, medical research and product management,” Mr El-Ansary said.

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