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​Australia's visa system to support 'global war' for high-end tech talent

The Australian government has reignited its visa reform discussion, with Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge telling members of the Business Council of Australia that the holes in their tech capability can still be filled under the 'skilled migration' plan.

Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge has reignited discussion around Australia's visa reform.

Addressing the Business Council of Australia on Tuesday, Tudge's speech detailed the new visa system as a "shift in orientation" of the skilled migration program, from focusing on skill level to focusing on labour market shortage.

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He framed the discussion as being about ensuring Australia has access to the "best" technology-related talent.

"With digital disruption to almost every industry, there is a global war for the high-end talent, and we need to ensure our visas support this," he said. "We are therefore complementing the national and regional skills lists with a number of other more bespoke arrangements.

"We are piloting a new way of getting the high-end global talent to Australia. As the prime minister frequently says, we are in a war for talent against other nations. Australia will always remain an attractive destination for people because of the livability of our cities, but the high-end talent have world-wide choice. We need to make it as simple as possible for them to make Australia their home."

According to Tudge, this can be achieved under the Global Talent Scheme.

Earlier this year, the Coalition announced that it would be conducting a pilot of its Global Talent Scheme visa regime from July, with established businesses and technology startups to follow different streams to bring technology workers into the country.

Whether an established business or startup, the pilot requires a business to demonstrate a policy to give "first preference to Australian workers" during recruitment and market testing for a position, and that a business be a "good corporate citizen" with no breaches of immigration or workplace laws, with a handful of other conditions including that the individual to begin employment must have at least three years' experience, not have a familial relationship with company directors or shareholders, and must have a "capacity" to pass on skills to and develop Australian workers.

"For high-end executives, there is significant flexibility for business recruitment of overseas talent, as the visa criteria is defined largely by salary, not position description," Tudge explained on Tuesday.

"Effectively, if a business cannot find an Australian and is willing to pay someone over AU$145,000 per annum, then they will be able to sponsor them into Australia. The rationale is that it is highly likely that the person will be an enormous asset to Australia if a business is willing to pay that sort of money."

Tudge said the government has been asked by employers if it can do more to attract the "best and brightest" into Australia, and as a result said the government is "looking into this and how we can leverage our global resources to do more to promote Australia to the individuals who would be economic multipliers for the nation".

With the abolition of the 457 work visa in April 2017, the government removed a number of IT roles from the jobs list used under the new Temporary Skill Shortage visa.

This position was later reversed, with a number of jobs being added back onto the list the following July.

Tudge said he will also soon be publishing an updated skills-shortage list.

"The challenge now is to ensure our skill-shortage lists remain accurate and relevant to business needs, so that they can genuinely and quickly fill labour gaps when there are demonstrably no Australians available," he said.

"The government, led by the Department of Employment, uses the best available data to construct these lists, and incorporates input by industry and other stakeholders.

"But no analysis can perfectly capture skills shortages across the nation. Further, jobs are changing rapidly and cannot always be neatly classified as they perhaps used to in a less digitally disruptive time."

Speaking previously about the ramifications on the technology scene in Australia of the changes to the visa system, Atlassian chief Mike Cannon-Brookes said the action taken by the government has "damaged Australia's reputation in the largest industry in the world".

"We said to the global tech industry, 'we're closed for business'. The restrictions are suffocating our ability to become a leading innovation nation -- and threatening Atlassian's ability to remain headquartered [in Australia]. Our future success depends on our ability to attract the world's best tech talent, today."

According to Cannon-Brookes, to unlock the job-creating potential of tech companies in Australia, the country needs to change the way it thinks about skilled migration.

"The government should be helping local companies attract world-class employees, not close the door in their face," he said.

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