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ITPA response to Commonwealth’s latest proposed visa changes

ITPA response to Commonwealth’s latest proposed visa changes

Vigilance and independent oversight required for Commonwealth’s proposed new “Global Talent Scheme” skilled worker visa system. Comment by Robert Hudson, President, ITPA.

A joint press release from Canberra on Monday, 19 March 2018 served to broadcast the Federal Government’s intention to once again fiddle at the edges of skilled worker immigration visas that are inevitably relevant to the IT industry.

Alan Tudge, Commonwealth Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs and Michaelia Cash, Commonwealth Minister for Jobs and Innovation collaborated to announce a "New visa scheme to attract highly skilled global talent".

In the usual fashion of parliamentary proclamations, there is very little detail of planned changes, just a declaration that; "The Government will consult further on the details of the scheme over the next few months, before piloting it for 12 months, starting 1 July 2018.

A Fact Sheet on the pilot scheme shows that there are two streams under which applications for the so-called "Global Talent Scheme" visas can be submitted.

One is for businesses with a turnover in excess of $4 million and a second one allows for "Technology-based and STEM-related start-up businesses" to sponsor experienced people with "specialised technology skills".

Larger businesses will be able to sponsor highly-skilled and experienced individuals for positions with earnings above $180,000 into Australia if they have a track-record of hiring and training Australians.

According to the statement, fledgling tech innovators that are recognised by a start-up authority and can demonstrate that they prioritise the employment of Australians will also be able to sponsor experienced people with specialised technology skills.

In both cases, successful applicants will be issued with a four-year Temporary Skill Shortage visa with permanent residence applications available after three years.

Without seeing details of how these requirements would be enforced, it is hard to comment on the scheme as a whole.

As a general principle, ITPA has no problem with importing high-end talent to bolster existing workforce availability where genuine skills shortages exist. Australia’s IT industry has always seen skilled migrants brought in to supplement local shortages and to some extent this is still needed to keep growing.

Our support for skilled visa programs stops, however, with current practices that seem to facilitate recruitment to lower end roles which could easily be filled by local graduates after some basic induction training.

Too often we see attempts by larger IT services and solutions integration organisations to deflect to the importation of niche proprietary skills that are already in existence elsewhere in the world at a lower cost.

What we would like to see from Government is positive solutions that deliver ongoing secure, full-time work for Australia IT professionals of all ages and experience.

For example, there needs to be more accessible incentives for employers of IT professionals to train and employ locals. There also needs to be rigid, independent oversight from regulatory bodies to ensure tech companies are doing the right thing and there needs to be penalties for organisations that are caught flouting the rules.

We need a Government that facilitates genuine career development opportunities through encouraging in-demand industry training at tertiary institutions and internships for undergraduate students as well as graduate year and mentoring programs when they complete their degrees.

There should also be support for re-education programs that help existing IT professionals and graduates transition into new roles being created in high-demand areas of the IT industry where skilled work visas are being granted.

If there is a genuine lack of local workers with the required skills, then we would support allowing foreign workers to be brought in under equivalent conditions to what would be required to hire a local resource.

Again, what we do not want to see is skilled workers from lower cost geographies moved to Australia at the lower-cost geography wages.

That is, we don’t want to see “skilled worker visas” used as a cost reduction tool where lower cost migrants are parachuted into roles that will displace local graduates and professionals perfectly capable of doing the job or that can be quickly brought up to capability with a little training.

If the Government is serious about delivering on its rhetoric around creating jobs for Australians, the IT industry is a prime example of where great progress can be made as demand for technology skills and services continues to grow.

Without seeing details on how this new pilot is planned and enforced, it is hard to gauge whether the Government’s claim that this new scheme will “underpin business growth, skills transfer and job creation” as Mr Tudge claims in the release.

The offer of permanent residency after three years of a four-year visa would seem to fly in the face of this assertion and for that reason raises some concerns.

At the end of the day, the biggest concern we have about this announcement is that there is very little detail on how the applications will be checked and the rules enforced.

It is our strong belief that there does need to be some voice for experienced industry professionals - people who work daily at the coal-face - involved in the process of reviewing applications because, at present, it is too easy to circumnavigate the stated requirements.

So, we will be watching with interest to see who makes up the “industry advisory group” being assembled to “provide ongoing guidance for the pilot” as declared in the press release. This body needs to be independent and impartial with representation from IT professionals.

ITPA would be very happy to provide such expertise and advise government in this area. With over 18,000 members we have a broad range of skills and experience willing to help provide oversight to ensure the integrity of applications and ongoing compliance with the new regulations that are proposed.

Robert Hudson

President of IT Professionals Association (ITPA) Australia