Government extends visa scheme to support tech start-ups to attract overseas workers

Max Blenkin

The federal government has extended a visa scheme designed to allow tech start-ups, including those in the growing space sector, to hire skilled workers from overseas.

That’s despite low take-up in the scheme’s yearlong pilot – just 23 companies signed up, of which five were start-ups and the others established businesses, including supermarket giant Coles and miner Rio Tinto.

Among the start-ups using what’s now called the Global Talent-Employer Sponsored (GTES) program is Gold Coast-based rocket company Gilmour Space Technologies, which hired four rocket engineers overseas and plans to hire more.

“We don’t have the skill set for building rockets in Australia, so we’ve got to bring these people in, and our philosophy is we bring them in to train Australians,” Gilmour chief executive Adam Gilmour told SBS News.

The four overseas recruits were helping to train the company’s 25 graduates on different aspects of rocket construction.

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Mr Gilmour suggested minimising the documentation required to join the scheme as it took six months to complete paperwork for approval to participate in the scheme. However, it did then enable visa applications to be fast-tracked.

“Why that is imperative is a highly talented overseas individual is not willing to wait two or three months for a visa to get approved to make a decision on whether they’re going to work for you,” he said.

 

Announcing the scheme’s extension, Immigration Minister David Coleman said the pilot showed that the GTES had strong industry support and highlighted the economic benefits of recruiting overseas talent directly to Australian businesses.

“These highly skilled overseas workers bring with them unique skills and knowledge that are transferred to Australian businesses, allowing for the creation of further jobs for Australians,” he said.

Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said making the program permanent would give the technology sector the certainty it needed to grow.

“This program will provide our tech companies with the skilled workers they need to be able to do business here in Australia and grow, which will in turn contribute to our economy and create more jobs for Australians,” she said.

“We obviously want Australians employed wherever possible, but this program will help tech companies to fill the gaps, while we continue to develop the skilled workforce we need.

“These highly skilled workers will not only help Australian businesses to grow but will also share knowledge with our local workforce and help to upskill their colleagues.”

Central to GTES is the government’s Start-up Advisory Panel, which endorses eligible companies for access to the scheme.

Panel chair Alex McCauley said the continuation of GTES was great news for young high-growth Australian businesses.

“We've got high expectations for Australian start-ups and have seen firsthand the value generated by the scheme. We want them to be global success stories very rapidly, but to do that, they need access to the best talent in the world,” he said.

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