A growing number of tech and startup leaders are expressing outrage at the federal government’s decision to abolish the 457 visa for skilled workers, with many entrepreneurs pointing to the visa program as a key part of Australia’s quest to build innovative companies.
In an announcement on Facebook yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the purpose of scrapping the 457 visa is to put “Australians first”.
“We are an immigration nation,” Turnbull says.
“But the fact remains, Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs … We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians … the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa, specifically designed to recruit the best and brightest in the national interest.”
Turnbull claims the new visa will “better target genuine skills shortages” and says a new training fund will also be established with details on this to be revealed in coming days.
The new visa scheme will include a temporary work visa with two and four year categories, which will require employers to conduct mandatory labor market testing before applying to have workers come onshore.
“It will be new requirements, including previous work experience, better English language proficiency and labour market testing,” the Prime Minister said.
457s key to Australian companies’ success: Mike Cannon-Brookes
As of September 2016, there were 95,758 people living in Australia on 457 visas, according to the federal department of immigration and border protection. This is down from 103,862 the same time in 2015.
Among these visa holders are a quarter of Atlassian’s 1000 employees in Australia, with the tech giant’s co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes telling The Australian any changes would make it even harder for cutting edge Australian companies to find the staff they need to grow.
“The success of our Australian operation is quite dependent on these visas,” Cannon-Brookes told RN Breakfast in February this year.
“Australia has a problem with senior skilled technical talent and this is the way that a huge amount of the tech industry gets them into the country.
“It’s not a question of not looking or saving money, it’s quite the opposite, it’s far more expensive but we don’t have big technology industry here, we certainly didn’t have one ten years ago.”
Other entrepreneurs including Sydney-based quantum physicist Michael Biercuk, have spoken out about arriving as 457 visa holders. Biercuk recently spoke at 2017’s Pause Fest about the revolutionary research he has been working on.
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Meanwhile, Tank Stream Labs chief executive Bradley Delamare says he was “lucky enough” to come to Australia on a 457 visa and is concerned the new scheme will make it even more difficult for Australian startups to build talented and global teams.
“I’m concerned these changes are going to make it more difficult for Australian startups to find and recruit the international talent they need to compete in a global marketplace. Especially when we have a skills shortage in the tech space,” Delamare said in a statement on the changes.
“Peter Dutton said one of his key goals in abolishing the 457 as it currently stands is to stop international workers on these visas from becoming permanent residents down the line.
“There are a huge number of creative and savvy migrants who are not just working for large companies on their visas, but have eventually gone on to launch their own small businesses and startups. We want these kind of innovators to continue to make Australia their home.”
Future of innovation compromised
TechSydney chief executive Dean McEvoy says while it is important to train Australians in science, technology, engineering and maths, there is an immediate need for a high-skilled workers in these fields that needs to be addressed.
“Any plans to cut back on the tech industry’s ability to bring in expertise from overseas before more Australians have been adequately trained in IT will only harm the industry and the future of jobs in this country,” McEvoy said in a statement.
University of Sydney’s Dr Dimitria Groutsis, who co-convenes the [email protected] Research Group, also says the abolition of the 457 visa is a backwards step.
“The abolition of the 457 visa as we know it signals a shift back to the original structure of the visa pathway. The Keating Government’s temporary 457 visa was introduced in the 1990s to expedite the entry of business professionals and highly skilled migrants,” Groutsis said in a statement.
“Over time the visa was opened up to include a broad suite of ‘skilled’ workers, with those on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s Skilled Occupation List (SOL) able to gain entry once nominated by an employer seeking to fill a position.
“The opening up of the visa transformed the original structure of a highly skilled entry pathway to a demand driven pathway for areas of shortage in all manner of employment. The abolition of the visa and its replacement with the government’s new visa pathway designed specifically for highly skilled workers is not only going back to the original visa structure but is also more similar in principle to the US H-1B visa pathway for the highly skilled, which has since been suspended by President Donald Trump.”