The last 12 months have seen significant upheaval in the employer sponsored visa categories, including the Subclass 457 – Temporary Work (Skilled) visa, Subclass 186 – Employer Nomination Scheme ('186 visa') and Subclass 187 – Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme permanent visas. On 19 March 2018, this upheaval culminated in the introduction of the Subclass 482 – Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa and significant changes to both the 186 and 187 visa subclasses.

The Tech industry has been a vocal critic of the government's announcement to 'abolish the 457 visa' in April 2017 and the ensuing chaos and uncertainty that followed. The sector argued that Australia competes globally for high-level talent and the uncertainty around the program has damaged Australia's reputation as an attractive destination for high-level candidates. Similarly, for employers who operate across borders, Australian teams compete with teams in other countries for project allocations. The availability of skilled employees in the destination country is a key factor in those allocations.

Enter the Global Talent Scheme visa pilot. The government has had limited success in recent times with designing visas to attract entrepreneurs and high-level talent. The Subclass 132 – Venture Capital Entrepreneur and Subclass 188E – Entrepreneur visa have been widely considered failures, with fewer than 10 visas approved in the last 5 years. While the Global Talent Scheme visa appears to be a step forward, a few modifications to the TSS and 186 visa system may yield the same or more benefits for employers and employees.

The proposed Global Talent Scheme visa

The Global Talent Scheme visa will have two streams; an Established Business stream and a Start-up stream. The streams will fall under the Subclass 482 (TSS) subclass.

The Established Business stream will be available to businesses with a turnover of $4 million who can satisfy standard (but revamped as of 19 March) temporary work visa (457/482) Labour Market Testing, Market Salary and commitment to employing Australian workers criteria. The position nominated must be remunerated at $180,000 or more and visa holders must have the capacity to pass on skills/develop Australians.

The Start-up stream is available to digital, biomedical or agtech businesses which can satisfy the above criteria, except for those relating to turnover and salary. The salary requirement will follow the current minimum of $53,900. The start-up business must also be endorsed by a 'start-up authority' to have access to the program.

Visa holders of both visa streams will be eligible for 4-year visas and will be able to apply for permanent residency after holding the visa for at least 3 years. It is not clear what additional criteria will need to be satisfied to be granted the permanent residency. We believe the key benefits of the scheme will be as follows:

  1. Priority processing, particularly for employers in the Start-up stream that may not be able to access Accredited Sponsorship;
  2. 4-year visas;
  3. Access to permanent residency for employees working in occupations on the Short-term Skilled Occupations List (STSOL), or even non-STSOL occupations;
  4. Option to include equity in the business as part of the overall earnings and market salary assessment for the Start-up stream. This would appear to re-open the door to what the Department refer to as 'self-sponsorship', which was effectively proscribed about 2 years ago. 'Self-sponsorship' in this context refers to an individual with a financial interest in the business sponsoring themselves.

The Alternatives

While the proposal to expand the range of visa options for start ups and global talent is to be welcomed, it appears to be an abandonment of the Department's visa simplification agenda. We therefore consider that global talent and businesses would be better served by the following modifications to the new TSS and 186 visa framework:

  1. Expand the Accredited Sponsorship provisions to allow Start-up's access with endorsement from a 'start-up authority';
  2. Add any STSOL or non-STSOL digital, biomedical or agtech occupations to the Medium and Long-term Skills Shortage List (MLTSSL);
  3. Add a $180,000 + salary category of 'occupation' to the MLTSSL;
  4. 'Lock-in' access to permanent residency for any occupation on the MLTSSL at the time the TSS visa was lodged;
  5. Relax policy on 'self-sponsorship' for candidates whose sponsor is endorsed by a 'start-up authority';
  6. Appropriate exemptions in the 186 visa subclass to allow highly-skilled people to access permanent residency sooner than 3 years.

We believe the 'lock-in' clause is a key element of any package to attract highly-skilled talent to Australia and support its inclusion in the Global Talent Scheme proposal. Australia has an advanced economy and good lifestyle, however, it is not necessarily viewed as a destination for career advancement or launching a start-up. Particularly, uncertainty around permanent residency is a significant disincentive to candidates with children, who are discouraged by the prospect of stopping schooling and returning home at 60 days' notice.

We look forward to the implementation of the scheme, or the modifications mentioned above, in July 2018. A government fact sheet on the proposal is available on our website.

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