Immigration minister Peter Dutton has unveiled a pilot program for a new ‘entrepreneur visa’ that would let foreign entrepreneurs and investors with an “innovative idea and a supporting business plan” to apply for a temporary visa to build the venture in Australia.
Under the initiative – to be piloted in South Australia, before a national roll-out next year – applicants do not require capital backing, unlike the current Entrepreneur Visa, which needs them to demonstrate funding of at least $200,000.
Instead, applicants’ proposals would be vetted by state or federal government entities – or by local incubators and accelerators on their behalf – to identify potential applicants for nomination.
Those entrepreneurs who are successful in establishing their business venture in Australia would also become eligible for permanent residence.
“The Turnbull Government is focussed on increasing job opportunities and standards of living for Australians, and we are doing this by fostering business growth and investment in Australia,” Mr Dutton said.
“Encouraging seed-stage entrepreneurs to take forward innovative ideas in Australia will assist in growing the jobs of the future”.
The catch is that Mr Dutton’s commitment on the visa pilot program is to Steven Marshall, the SA Liberal leader, who is at long-odds to roll current Premier Jay Weatherill at the state election on March 17.
It is not clear what happens to the proposal for a pilot should Mr Marshall not win, although the visa itself seems likely for national roll-out in 2019 regardless.
The scheme would allow global accelerator – like Techstars in Adelaide or the new Microsoft Scale-up accelerator in Sydney – to bring in entrepreneurial talent from outside the country.
“Peter Dutton is trying to cover up his own failures by announcing policy thought bubbles in the lead up to the South Australian election,” shadow Industry minister Kim Carr told InnovationAus.com.
It was Mr Dutton’s Immigration department that unexpectedly scrapped Australia’s 457 visa program last year – drawing huge criticism from the tech innovation sector – and replaced it with two new temporary visas with more stringent requirements.
The 457 visa was used by Australian companies to bring temporary skills into the country. It was a popular visa arrangement among the local tech and startup community.
The temporary visas comprised of a short-term stream of up to two years and a medium-term stream of up to four years.
However the short-term visa does not allow for permanent residency. The medium-term option allows for up to four years and be “targeted at higher skills”.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection at the time said the new scheme would allow businesses to “address genuine skill shortages in their workforce and will contain a number of safeguards which prioritise Australian workers”.
Google Australia had reported earlier in the year that it was forced to change its local recruitment plans due to the changes, which echoed one of the biggest issues the local tech and startup sector has been lobbying the government on recently, and one of the core focuses of the StartupAus Crossroads 2017 report.
“Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull botched their changes to temporary skilled migration – sending waves of uncertainty through the business, innovation and education sectors,” Senator Carr said.
“The Liberals proved they can’t be trusted with Australian jobs because they failed to consult about their changes to temporary skilled migration – leading to unintended consequences for the scientific and research sectors.”
StartupAus chief operating officer Alex Gruszka said the new visa concept being piloted is a step in the right direction.
“Removing the onerous funding requirement creates a much more realistic chance of attracting entrepreneurs to start businesses in Australia and create local jobs,” he said.
“While there may still be issues with the expense of application and approval time compared to overseas equivalents, it’s great to see positive movement on this front.”
Techstars Adelaide managing director Terry Gold believes “any efforts to make it easier for overseas founders to create jobs here in South Australia, rather than having to return home at the end of future Techstars Adelaide programs would be welcome.”
Anthony Sochan, partner of Think & Grow, which specialises in talent placement for startups, agreed while the initiative will help broaden the entrepreneur base in Australia, the success of the visa will come down to the finer details.
“At the moment we know that all applicants must be under 45 years old and have vocational level English to be eligible for the temporary visa. They also don’t need any capital outlay unlike the Entrepreneur Visa which requires minimum funding of $200,000,” he said.
“The temporary visa is also a pathway to permanent residency, which is great news given the 457 visa program axing.
“We don’t know if this temporary visa scheme is contingent upon the Liberals winning office on March 17, but we would urge the powers that be to make it a reality no matter who wins. Great ideas for job and talent creation shouldn’t be confined to election cycles.
“The benefit of such a visa arrangement to Australia is limitless. Not only can we learn from overseas entrepreneurs who have chosen Australia as their home, but the residual impact on the economy will be tremendous – just look at the UK as an example.
“Migrant entrepreneurs have created one in every seven UK companies, according to 2014 data by research company DueDil and think tank the Centre for Entrepreneurs.”
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