The likes of Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and leading entrepreneur Steve Baxter have been warning the Australian government about the tech skills shortage for years, and now at last it is taking steps to correct the situation.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on March 19, 2018

The Turnbull government will create a new visa to allow companies to sponsor migrants for jobs with annual salaries of more than $180,000.

The Global Talent Scheme (GTS) is designed to help Australia attract top talent in fields where there are skills shortages, like biomedicine and agricultural technology.

“The Government recognises there is fierce competition globally for high-tech skills and talent, and that attracting these people helps to transfer skills to Australian workers and grow Australian-based businesses,” a government media statement read.

“Established businesses with an annual turnover of more than $4m will be able to sponsor highly-skilled and experienced individuals for positions with earnings above $180,000 into Australia.”

It is understood the GTS will be rolled out in the form of a year-long trial, replacing the 457 temporary skilled shortage visas.

There won’t be a cap on the overall number of visas, but individual companies will only be able to employ a maximum of 20 migrants under the new visa per year, and startups will be restricted to five.

The migrants will then be able to attain permanent residence after three years in the country.

“We want to ensure that Australian businesses can access the best talent in the world, because this will underpin business growth, skills transfer and job creation,” Alan Tudge, minister for citizenship and multicultural affairs, said.

“At all stages, Australians are prioritised for the jobs, but where the skills and experience are not available here, we want to be able to attract talent from overseas.”

The 12-month trial is due to begin in July.

Tech shortage solutions

The new visa follows calls from some of the world’s most successful businesspeople to address Australia’s struggle with talent acquisition and retention for tech companies.

Bill Gates told Airtree Ventures co-founder Daniel Petre last year, the government had to start offering direct citizenship to its best international students.

“We were having dinner and talking about issues of talent acquisition in Australia and how we could maintain it. He noted there were a large number of foreign students in engineering and science faculties, and how it seemed our universities might struggle to function without them,” Petre told StartupSmart.

“And he said it seems like the solution to the skills shortage would be to offer the top graduates from those faculties an Australian citizenship.”

Three years ago, Shark Tank’s Steve Baxter, Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brooks and then-Trade Minister Andrew Robb discussed radical and aggressive ways to boost the tech industry at home. And Baxter said they all agreed Australia had to entice the best and brightest from around the globe.

“[Cannon-Brookes] said we should pick the top 50 universities in the world, and tell their graduates if they have good enough grades, they’re in, come to Australia,” Baxter recalled.

“And I agree, we need something radical like that, especially with American immigration policy moving back at this stage. We need to say ‘we’re open for business’, and we need to get adventurous about how we attract talent.

“We lack the feedstock of smart young people for tech startups here currently. The uni sector doesn’t produce enough talent in term of graduates for the requirement in Australia. We need to be bringing more smart people from all around the world.”

Cannon-Brookes has since applauded the move via Twitter, saying: “I should say here – kudos to the govt for responding to feedback”.