ANZCO list used to determine Australia's tech talent visa eligibility criticised as outdated

One of the common criticisms is that it fails to recognise skills and occupations that companies are demanding.

The Australian tech industry has said there needs to be a better alternative than relying on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZCO) list to determine an individual's eligibility to access a skilled visa in the country.

The ANZCO list was established by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to provide information on the skill level of jobs, qualifications, and experiences needed to work in specific occupations in Australia. The list is used by the federal government as a base as to whether an individual is eligible to qualify for a skilled visa in Australia, including the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa, which was introduced in April 2017 after the Temporary Work (Skilled) 457 visa was scrapped.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) has highlighted that the ANZSCO list in its current form does not consider recently created tech roles such as data scientists, cybersecurity consultants, and cloud architects, which are in high demand.

"Not only many of today's most in-demand ICT skills and occupations are not found in the current form of ANZSCO but also many of the ANZSCO occupation definitions designed by the ABS are outdated for the evolving technology sector," the ACS outlined in its submission [PDF] to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, which is currently undertaking an inquiry into Australia's skilled migration program.

"As most of the ICT occupations have significantly evolved over last decade, it is becoming challenging for ACS Skills Assessment to align current skills and experiences with outdated classifications."

The ACS added that the list combines IT-related subcategories with unrelated industries, such as print media, and therefore "creates problems for employers trying to shoehorn their needs into other categories, potentially also taking the place of skilled technicians in those categories".

Similarly, Atlassian and Canva, said in their joint submission [PDF] to the committee that the ANZCO lists "fail to capture the specific roles the tech industry that companies are in desperate need of".

"It is unclear to us why some occupations are on the short-term list and others are not. The occupations on the short-term list that we need in the industry are in just as short supply in Australia as other occupations we recruit for that are on the long-term list," they said.

"In our view there should be no distinction and the pathway to permanent residence should be based on an employer's demonstrated need, and not a government decision on the apparent state of the labour market … in our view ANZCO should not be the determiner of an 'occupation' or role for the purposes of nominating someone for a visa."

The pair, however, acknowledged that the current immigration system has "generally" served both companies "well", but believes there is room for improvement. They noted the main impediment to attracting overseas workers is they have no pathway to permanent residence in Australia.

"If we could have one change to the program, it would be to remove the distinction between those occupations that have a pathway to permanent residence and those that do not," Atlassian and Canva jointly said.

The existing visa framework was also picked apart by the South Australian Department of Innovation and Skills. It said a consistent issue raised by the state's startup community is that many talented individuals are often left without visas due to the Australian government's "rigid" skills assessment and education requirements.

"Many entrepreneurs do not have formal qualifications, instead of learning their skills on the job and perhaps having portfolio careers. Typically, a startup ecosystem would have contributors with various backgrounds and roles, but many face difficulties in fitting into a defined visa pathway," the department said in its submission [PDF]

"The national visa system would benefit from an integrated pathway for entrepreneurs that could help to attract and retain highly skilled people in Australia."

The state department cautioned, however, that any national visa schemes that are introduced should not compete with those offered by state and territories, such as South Australia's own Support Innovation in South Australia program, designed to encourage entrepreneurs to set up in the state, but rather be complementary. 

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