July 1 has seen the initialisation of a startup-focused visa stream that's got the potential to provide some serious relief for startup founders in Australia.
StartupAUS has been working closely with the Department of Home Affairs to refine and finalise the introduction of the Global Talent Scheme (GTS). The scheme has a special carve-out specifically for startups trying to recruit overseas talent. Here's what you need to know.
What the new Australian global talent scheme means for startups, in a nutshell:
- Companies will have to apply for a one-off assessment to qualify as 'startups'
- Initial candidates for the scheme will be funded scale-ups, with the definition of a startup broadening as the pilot progresses
- Startups will then have access to 5 high priority visas per year which don't need to match up to existing skills shortage lists
- These visas will last 4 years, and will include a path to permanent residency for visa holders
- Startup visas will be fast-tracked, with processing to take between 17 and 30 days
- Startups will need to show they've tried to hire for particular roles in Australia first
- Pilot set to last 1 year initially, with a view towards making the scheme permanent in 2019 if successful
After a long campaign from business, the Australian federal government agreed to create a new scheme to allow businesses some additional flexibility in recruiting key roles from overseas. That program is called the Global Talent Scheme. The scheme allows established businesses 20 visas per year that are much more flexible than anything offered by the existing TSS (the visa that replaced the 457). Hires under this visa do not have to match an established occupation list, and there is a permanent residency path for them to take.
Advocates for the startup sector, including us at StartupAUS, made the case that startups were characteristically different - it was impossible for them to qualify as established businesses because they tended to be young, and they would struggle to meet the minimum income threshold for visa applicants ($145,400) - in part because startups typically use equity as a significant part of their remuneration packages.
The Department of Home Affairs listened, and has made a unique stream of the GTS specifically for startups. This stream has softened requirements across the board, reduces the salary threshold to a package of $80,000, and recognises equity as a legitimate salary component for international recruits. It is limited only to startups. The startup stream is limited to 5 visas per year, but startups that are able to grow and scale will be able to transition to the established business stream as their staffing requirements increase. Startups will still be able to apply for regular TSS visas, so the 5 extra GTS visas are specifically there to plug gaps and recruit people who are tricky to hire under the current system. It's all upside.
This is great news for startups, who regularly tell us that talent is the single biggest factor limiting their growth. But this is also the first time anything like this has been tried in Australia, and as such it's up to us to make sure that the scheme is a success and the pilot leads to a permanent program.
Keeping it to startups
One component of this that's going to be tricky for the government is how to make sure the scheme isn't abused by non-startups. People will go to great lengths to get a visa to Australia, so it's entirely possible that fraudsters would set up a new business, say it's a startup, and then just use it to import family, friends, or even paying visa-buyers from overseas. That would put the whole program at risk for startups.
To prevent that, each business must first undergo a one-off assessment to prove that they are a legitimate startup. Once the business has proven its startup credentials, it is then able to apply for up to 5 visas per year under the startup stream.
Home Affairs is setting up an industry expert panel to review each startup application. It plans to go slowly at first - rolling out the scheme to a limited number of high-growth funded startups that are very obviously legitimate organisations that need visas right now. Then, as the pilot goes on, the idea is to expand it so more companies will have access.
Given how important we think a startup visa stream is for the success of our ecosystem, we're going to help try to make this a smooth process. We think it's important that the sector as a whole gets together to try to make this work, too. Constructive engagement with the pilot as it goes forward will be really important. As an industry, we need to take some ownership of this to help it succeed and make it a high-value tool to help Aussie startups compete on the global stage.
The bottom line here is that we as a sector voiced our concerns loudly and clearly, and they've been answered. A visa scheme tailored uniquely to startups - one that considers equity as part of a salary package and can be turned around in a few weeks - is an Australian-first, and something that could be very valuable to our sector. We're excited about the possibilities it can bring and mindful about the need to approach it with integrity. We here at StartupAUS will keep working to make this work, so you can keep doing what you do best.
Get in touch with us if you'd like more details. We'll keep you up to speed with it. In the meantime, you can find some more information on the Home Affairs GTS Website, and in the fact sheet they released.