The government has extended a program designed to make it easier for tech companies to attract highly-skilled overseas workers, despite few startups signing up in its first year.
Immigration Minister David Coleman announced on Thursday that the global talent pilot scheme will become a permanent feature of Australia’s migration program.
“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,” he said.
Of the 23 businesses that have signed up, just five are startups, with the majority being established businesses including Coles Supermarkets and Rio Tinto.
Immigration law specialist Jordan Tew, a partner at Hannan Tew Lawyers, said there was a lot of misunderstanding about the new scheme.
“I get asked all the time, ‘can you tell me about the startup visa?’,” he told SBS News.
“That’s how it’s been characterised, that it’s this magic visa for startups and that’s not what it is at all.”
In most cases, the scheme has not been suitable for his startup clients.
“It’s just an added cost and another administrative procedure that you have to go through,” Mr Tew said.
The immigration minister’s office was unable to say how many visas had been accessed through the scheme, but it’s understood to be a low number.
Calls to reduce fees
Despite the teething problems, Mr Tew said he supports the continuation of the program, but is calling for a reduction in the application fees which can reach $10,000.
“For a startup that may not have that much money and wants to use it in developing their business, paying a significant amount in the lodgment fee can be prohibitive,” he said.
Startup Advisory Panel chair Alex McCauley said the government’s decision to continue the program would benefit young tech companies.
“We’ve got high expectations for Australian startups and have seen firsthand the value generated by the scheme – we want them to be global success stories very rapidly, but to do that, they need access to the best talent in the world,” Mr McCauley said.
“We know from the pilot phase that these visas are unlocking tremendous business growth. That growth is in turn allowing those companies to hire and train a large number of additional local positions.”
Scheme launches rocket engineers into Australia
Gold Coast-based rocket building startup, Gilmour Space Technologies has hired four rocket engineers through the scheme and plans to hire more.
“We don’t have the skill set for building rockets in Australia so we’ve got to bring these people in and our philosophy is we bring them in to train Australians,” CEO Adam Gilmour told SBS News.
The senior recruits are helping to train the startup’s 25 graduates on different aspects of building rockets.
While it took six months to complete the paperwork and be approved to participate in the scheme, it enabled visa applications to be fast tracked.
“Why that is imperative is a highly talented overseas individual is not willing to wait two or three months for a visa to get approved to make a decision on whether they’re going to work for you,” Mr Gilmour said.
“No one’s got any patience for that.”
He suggested minimising the documentation required to join the scheme to encourage more entrepreuners to sign up, citing Singapore’s quick online process.
“That’s the benchmark Australia should be going for.”