Prominent members of the Australian startup community say a potential tightening of arrangements for 457 visas would have serious ramifications for the country’s ability to keep up with the world.
Highly skilled talent from overseas plays a crucial role in supporting and strengthening Australia’s local labour force, according to Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, while Shark Tank investor and tech entrepreneur Steve Baxter says any potential reduction in the supply of skilled workers would be an “obvious crazy move”.
Cannon-Brookes’s comments come as federal innovation minister Arthur Sinodinos has outlined plans to consult with Atlassian executives and other leaders in the sector to discuss the fate of the 457 visa, which enables employers to bring skilled workers in from overseas on temporary assignments when talent can’t be found locally.
“I will be talking to the Atlassians of this world and other companies on how we make sure the 457 visa scheme meets their demands and how we also, over time, transition to as much reliance as possible on Australian labour,” Sinodinos recently told The Deal.
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“We are working on strategies to make sure we can fill as many jobs as we can locally.”
Speaking to StartupSmart, Baxter says it would put the sector’s main “fuel” at risk.
“It is an obvious point that we do not graduate enough skilled people currently through our university sector to fulfil current workplace needs, let alone any expanded role we want tech startups to play,” Baxter says.
“Any reduction in the supply of skilled workers is an obvious crazy move. Why spend the billions we are on ‘innovation’ if this move will starve it of workers?
“Given the public change in attitude in the US (a traditional tech startup powerhouse), if anything we should be taking an aggressive approach and loosening visa requirements for experienced and skilled tech workers and also entrepreneurs to start or grow businesses here.
“Why not seize the momentum for once?”
Meanwhile Cannon-Brookes revealed on RN Breakfast that a quarter of Atlassian’s 1000 employees in Australia are on 457 visas.
“The success of our Australian operation is quite dependent on these visas,” he says.
“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.”