Australia extends a welcome to Hong Kong “super” tech experts, via Global Talent Scheme visa

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison. PHOTO: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

The federal government is prioritising Hong Kong applicants for the Global Talent Scheme visa, in a bid to attract the troubled state’s ‘super talent’ and boost the Aussie economy.

In a speech last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced measures to extend additional visas to Hong Kong residents — both those already in Australia and those considering migrating.

The move follows the passing of Hong Kong’s new security law, which hands significant power to mainland China. Under the laws, crimes such as ‘collusion with foreign forces’ are punishable by life imprisonment, while action like damaging public transport can be considered terrorism.

Beijing will also establish its own security office in Hong Kong, with personnel outside of Hong Kong’s jurisdiction, and some criminal cases will be able to be tried in mainland China.

As Hong Kong’s autonomy comes under threat, nations including the UK and Australia have said they will welcome citizens looking to relocate. And, while humanitarian visa streams remain in place, there’s also a focus on the talent that’s up for grabs.

On Thursday, Morrison said immigration has been “a pillar of the strength of our nation, not just our economy but our society as well”.

Hong Kong residents on student visas or temporary skills visas will be granted an additional five years in Australia, in addition to any time already spent here, he announced.

But, the government is also vying to attract business owners, entrepreneurs and anyone else likely to bring wealth and job creation to Australia.

Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge said the government would prioritise applications to its Global Talent Scheme from Hong Kong, in a bid to attract “super talent”.

“We’ll be prioritising applicants from Hong Kong for that scheme and providing some additional resources there as well, to target those particular individuals who are real job-multiplying people, who create businesses, who are entrepreneurs, who have that tech talent that the world is looking for, frankly,” Tudge said.

First rolled out as a trial in July 2018, the Global Talent Scheme (GTS) visa is intended to allow employers to sponsor workers from overseas for niche, highly-skilled positions.

The scheme is designed to allow an easier way for businesses, including startups, to get the talent they need on board, without being restricted to jobs on the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) list.

Despite delays and setbacks, it was widely hailed as an opportunity for startups, who are often looking for very particular skill sets that don’t typically fall neatly into a TSS category.

However, after a 12-month pilot scheme, just 18 companies were approved as sponsors under the scheme, with five of those approved under the ‘startup’ stream.

And, fewer than 30 visas were actually granted under the scheme in the first year.

A year on, 45 businesses are approved under the scheme, including the likes of Atlassian, Baraja, Canva and Cochlear, as well some unusual suspects such as Coles, Flight Centre and Goldman Sachs.

It’s not clear how many visas have now been issued.

Aussie businesses looking to hire Hong Kong citizens through the scheme will now be given priority, with employees being offered a permanent residency visa.

The government is also prioritising Hong Kong applications for other business investment programs, encouraging existing businesses to relocate.

There are also incentives for big business, such as media, financial services and consulting firms, including visas allowing critical staff to migrate with their employers.

“There is so much talent in Hong Kong. There are great businesses in Hong Kong. And we know that many individuals now might be looking elsewhere,” Tudge said.

“We want to make it attractive for that super talent to consider Australia.”

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