The federal government’s flagship innovation visa has been “effectively halted” due to the recent political turmoil in Canberra, with no visas issued more than a quarter of the way into its 12-month pilot.
The Global Talent Scheme, offering four-year visas for highly-skilled tech workers from around the world, was unveiled by the earlier this year and officially launched in July.
The scheme was meant to placate an irate tech sector following the shock axing of the 457 visa last year, with concerns mounting over a talent gap and the difficulties in bringing skilled workers from overseas.
But InnovationAus.com understands that the leadership changes and ministerial reshuffles of recent months have delayed the scheme, with no visas issued yet and none on the near horizon.
The revolving door at a ministerial level has provided a speed bump for the new innovation visa scheme, and has eaten into the limited time given to it to prove its worth and secure longer term government support.
The scheme was initially planned to operate as a 12-month pilot.
BlueChilli head of people Claudia Barriga-Larriviere, who works closely with startups looking to bring in international talent, said the delays were troubling.
“My understanding is that the pilot for the GTS has effectively been halted because of all the turmoil going on in government. That definitely hasn’t helped,” Ms Barriga-Larriviere told InnovationAus.com.
“Everything from partner visas to skilled visas are being delayed and with no certainty as to when we’ll actually see anything move
“It is very concerning. We’re 25 per cent into it and we haven’t started – that’s the concern. We are very dependent on these external factors, and speed and time is of the essence for any startup.”
A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said the scheme had not been delayed and that it had been launched in July as planned, but did not say whether any visas had been issued yet.
The new scheme sits underneath the Temporary Skills Shortage visa scheme and offers a way for tech companies to target “highly skilled and specialised workers” that can’t be found in Australia.
The new scheme offers visas for up to four years with a pathway to permanent residence. It is separated into two streams, one for businesses with an annual turnover of at least $4 million, and one for tech and STEM startups.
The business stream allows for up to 20 visas per year per company, with each having a minimum annual salary of $145,000.
To be eligible for the startup stream, the company must have secured an investment of at least $50,000 from a registered investment fund or received an Accelerating Commercialisation grant, and be approved by the startup authority.
A startup can then access up to five visas per year, offering a wage of at least $80,000, although this can include equity with a minimum cash component of $53,900.
The federal government established an Industry Advisory Group to assist with the Global Talent Scheme, with members including StartupAus, Innovation and Science Australia, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and Cochlear.
Multiple startups have applied for the scheme already, and have needed to provide further evidence that they are eligible for it, InnovationAus.com understands.
Each stage of the approval process requires sign-off from the relevant minister, and changes in the government’s Cabinet have delayed this by several months.
The GTS had planned to issue fast-tracked visas as quickly as three weeks after application.
The “startup authority”, a new body formed to assess the startups applying for visas and accredit them as valid “startups” is also still yet to be finalised, InnovationAus.com understands, leading to further confusion around how a startup is defined by the government.
Some of the delays is believed to be down to changes in ministers and who is responsible for the scheme. The Global Talent Scheme was first announced by former citizenship minister Alan Tudge, who was shifted to a different role as part of new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet reshuffle in August.
David Coleman was appointed as the new minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs, while Peter Dutton was returned to his role as home affairs minister following his failed leadership tilt.
Former innovation minister Michaelia Cash, who announced the new visas in partnership with Mr Tudge, was also replaced by Karen Andrews as part of the reshuffle.
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said the visa scheme had launched as planned in July and has received “encouraging early interest”, but did not say whether any visas had been issued yet.
“Details of all the companies that have entered into a GTS agreement will be made available on the Home Affairs website in due course. After a company enters into a GTS agreement with the Department, they may lodge a nomination application for an overseas worker. Nominated workers can then apply for a TSS visa,” the Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said.
“The GTS was launched as a pilot to allow the government to make refinements in consultation with industry and test settings and processes to ensure that it achieves its purpose. The government continues to work closely with industry on the implementation and refinement of the GTS.”
While the delay has been frustrating for the sector, with many companies desperately needing to fill roles quickly, many have also emphasised the importance of getting it right and ensuring that it is extended by whichever party wins next year’s election.
There are significant concerns surrounding the scheme as a whole and the requirements imposed on applying companies.
The current GTS is also not practical for an early-stage startup, Ms Barriga Larriviere said.
“The biggest complaint around the 457 was that it wasn’t tethered to nuance – the complexities of the company weren’t taken into account,” Ms Barriga-Larriviere told InnovationAus.com.
“The problem with this one is that it’s not really tethered to any practical reality. We’ve substituted one problem for another.”
The labour market testing that must be completed by the applicant and fees associated with the application are significant concerns for young startups, she said.
“The labour market testing is the most onerous part for a company like ours. For the GTS you have to go to the labour market for four months. That’s a lifetime for a startup. That’s effectively halting the business – it’s completely untethered to any startup’s reality,” she said.
“It’s also not tethered to any financial reality. You’ve got the fee, then you’ve got the lawyer and you’ve got the new levy. The idea that a startup could pay anything between $2000 and $7000 at the time of application is crazy. It becomes an insurmountable task that’s so littered with uncertainty.”
She hopes that the federal government consults closely with those impacted by the scheme throughout the pilot.
“Part of the problem is that we’re waiting with baited breath to see what’s going to happen next,” Ms Barriga-Larriviere said.
“I wish there was a lot more inclusion in the process and humans were put at the centre, as opposed to a policy of working backwards from the worst possible scenario.”