The Australian tech industry is happier after a government rethink on skilled immigration

Staff of Australian startup Tapview. (Image: Supplied)

Tech startup leaders have praised the Australian government’s move to add a range of technology jobs back into the highest tier of the new skilled immigration program that’s replaced the old 457 visas.

The federal government’s announcement in April to scrap 457 skilled immigration visas was met with anger from many in the tech industry, which relies on such an intake to counter local labour shortages. Expert 360 chief Bridget Loudon even suggested at the time some tech companies could move to Europe or the USA.

The replacement scheme saw a two-year Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) visa and a four-year Medium and Long‑term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) visa, with only the latter providing a path to permanent residency. Chief information officer, chief executive officer and many technical jobs had been placed in the two-year bucket, much to the displeasure of the tech industry.

But on Friday, the industry had a major win when immigration minister Peter Dutton announced 36 jobs had been added to the program and many jobs had been promoted from the short-term tier to the four-year scheme.

StartupAus chief Alex McCauley said this week the promotion of CIO and CEO from the two-year tier to the four-year list was invaluable.

“These are key positions for emerging high-growth businesses and the ability to hire executives to fill these roles from a global pool of talent is critical to the success of the sector,” he said.

TechSydney chief Dean McEvoy was also pleased with the change, while believing the removal of C-suite positions from the permanent residency pathway was never in the spirit of the skilled immigration program.

“Removing CEOs and CIOs from the long-term skills list risked making it difficult for overseas tech founders to come to this country and create jobs for Australians, which we believe was not the original intention of the 457 visa overhaul.”

Other tech jobs promoted to the four-year list were IT security specialists, software engineers, computer network and systems engineers, telecommunications engineers and systems analysts.

However, McEvoy said more changes were needed before the Australian tech industry could truly attract the world’s best talent.

“We are disappointed that a number of other improvements we had called for were not implemented in this round of changes,” he said.

“TechSydney will continue to push for an immigration system that encourages the brightest and best from around the world to relocate to Australia as we are seeing in France, Canada and elsewhere.”

McCauley agreed that “significant work” is required to get the immigration laws up to where the tech industry needs it to be.

“A range of cutting edge digital and technology skills are not included in the list despite extensive input by the sector to the government’s consultation process,” he said.

“Also unaddressed is the fact that salary minimums currently don’t take into account equity, limiting access by startups to the visa regime.”

Dutton on Friday did not rule out further changes, saying the job lists are “designed to be dynamic”.

“The government recognises the importance of enabling Australian businesses to tap into global talent to remain internationally competitive and support a strong national science and innovation agenda,” he said.

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