Startup News & Analysis

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten proposes SMART Visa to attract “world-leaders” in tech and research

Dinushi Dias /

Bill Shorten

Source: AAP Image/Sam Mooy

Following the Turnbull government’s scrapping of the 457 visa scheme, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has proposed a new visa scheme to capture world-class talent while “toughening” up the protection of Australian jobs.

The SMART visa scheme would aim to attract “world-leaders” in select sectors across the globe to come and work for universities, research institutes, medical, scientific and advanced technology industries and companies, as well as public research agencies.

At the same time, Shorten is also proposing to make further changes to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s revised 457 visa scheme by removing more than 400 occupations off the list entirely, and increasing the fees for temporarily bringing in skilled workers to 3% of the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold.

During an address to the McKell Institute in Sydney on Wednesday, Shorten said this would equate to $1600 a year or $6400 for a four-year visa, compared to $575 per year under the Turnbull government’s proposal.

“If you genuinely want to fix the rorts in the visa system, you need stronger action against those employers who deliberately do the wrong thing — and unfairly competing against those employers doing the right thing,” he says.

The money raised by the fee increased would go to a national training initiative called the Skill-Up Training Fund, which Shorten said would “help ensure every Australian has access to the skills and training they need to get a good job”.

The new SMART visa category would ensure employers across the research and education sectors as well as tech companies can attract “world-leaders” in science, medicine, academia, research and technology, said Shorten.

The Lighthouse Sydney chief executive and Techfugees co-founder Annie Parker says while there’s not a lot of detail in the scheme for startups and how they may use it, she believes the SMART visa has potential to benefit startups in the “deep tech and medical space”.

“It’s unclear whether those in more general tech and software companies will qualify for these visas too,” she says.

“It’s definitely not a bad thing and having lots more world leaders in their field in Australia who can become advisers and mentors to early stage companies could be of huge value to the tech sector.

“Especially if these people have experience in commercialising their research into businesses as well.”

StartupSmart contacted Bill Shorten’s office but a spokesperson for the Opposition Leader declined to provide further comment.

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.

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