Tech talent to be chased for permanent residency visas

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Tech talent to be chased for permanent residency visas

The federal government will conspicuously ramp-up its efforts to attract senior technology leaders, tech entrepreneurs, researchers, developers and experts to permanently migrate to Australia under a newly-established scheme that actively seeks out talent, rather than waiting for it to come knocking.

Dubbed the 'global talent independent program' (GTIP) and quietly launched in June, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman this week delivered a speech explaining the purpose of the program.

"The fact is that high tech jobs don’t always fit neatly into a bureaucratic analysis of the labour market, and that start-ups often have needs that no top-down template could have foreseen," Coleman said. He added "Since the trial began late last year, we’ve reached agreements with numerous start-ups and established companies, including Canva and Cochlear.  These agreements will make it easier for those companies to grow their business in a way that generates more employment for Australians."

"By attracting the very best, we will help to build enterprises that will employ large numbers of Australians in high skill, high wage jobs."

The program will sit separately to the ‘global talent – employer sponsored program’ (GTES), which was made permanent last week after a 12-month pilot.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, the GTIP scheme is “designed to attract skilled migrants at the top of their profession to Australia. The program will bring the best talent from around the world.”

“This will create opportunities for Australians by transferring skills and creating job opportunities. We will promote this program in Australia and overseas,” Home Affairs material states.

Home Affairs says it “will work with Australian sectors, businesses, and governments to attract global talent from around the world” and that “Global Talent Officers will work in key locations overseas.

They will also “work with local industries to identify talented people” and “attend key industry events and expos, and promote life in Australia,” a move that appears to apply destination marketing principles to the permanent migration market.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is a former immigration minister and destination marketer.

However the talent pool of 5000 GTIP placements will not be additional to current migration numbers, a spokesman for the Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Minister told CRN sibling publication iTnews.

The spokesman said “5,000 places have been set aside within our permanent migration program (set at 160,000 places) for GTIP.

“Home Affairs officers will be placed in key overseas locations to seek out the very best people in high growth industries, and encourage them to come to Australia to help grow those industries,” the spokesman said. 

“An officer is already in place in Berlin, and additional staff will commence work next month in the United States, Singapore, Santiago, Shanghai, and Dubai.

“By attracting the very best in high growth industries, we will help to build businesses that will employ large numbers of Australians in high skill, high wage jobs.”

The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday reported that immigration authorities overseeing the GTI scheme would be advised by a “a small panel of Australia's high achievers” in terms of which sectors and source nations to target.

The use of permanent residency and potentially citizenship is a major shift in thinking around attracting technologists and high tech industries to Australia.

The outbound marketing effort is effectively an admission that existing efforts for skilled permanent migration are insufficient to maintain an inflow of talent to digitise existing industries and create sustainable new sectors around fields like robotics, advanced physics and quantum computing.

The move also sidelines the Australian tech sector’s infamously fractious lobby groups, the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Information Industry Association, by creating a new mechanism that can be used to assess skills and talent beyond those bodies' job classifications schemes.

Attracting technologists to permanently migrate has for decades been controlled by what used to be known as the MODL (Migration Occupation Demand List) that was set in consultation with industry and professional groups.

However the often lumpy and cyclical history of IT skills demand – essentially a boom and bust scenario caused by upgrade cycles like Windows iterations and Y2K – caused employers to favour the more malleable 457 temporary visa scheme where they could tie talent to their businesses.

While the now junked 457 visa scheme eventually became known for rorts like labour arbitraging by big IT outsourcers – a practice that was specifically banned but next to impossible to police – it had been intended as a means to transfer high tech skills into Australia through a ‘train the trainers’ model.

The new model being advocated by Coleman in a speech to the Sydney Institute on Tuesday night essentially makes skilled talent sourcing a function of government, taking power away from industry groups.

What Australian companies and industry sectors will now be able to do, at least according to Coleman’s vision, is push tech for selected pockets of talent to be actively enticed to Australia permanently rather the rely on the ‘see who applies model’.

With a chronic tech skills shortage in some pockets like AI, data analytics and machine learning and mass redundancies flowing across superseded tech skillsets, industry as well as Coleman will be hoping the migration wonks get it right this time.

Additional reporting by Simon Sharwood.

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