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If employers can’t import critical talent on visas, they’ll consider overseas hires, says CEO

The Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) Visa, which is expected to replace the subclass 457 Visa this month, continues to divide the business community, with employers contending onerous requirements and costs will impede their ability to hire critical talent.

[Related: PM announces the end of 457 visas, proclaiming Australians must have priority for local jobs, Start-ups weigh in on the 457 visa abolishment, Liven co-founder suggests training subsidy to offset start-up impacts of the 457 visa reform, Federal Budget: foreign worker tax introduced, How the 457 Visa changes will impact SMEs, Committee endorses visa worker levy but Kate Carnell warns of angst for small businesses]

In April 2017, the Federal Government announced the subclass 457 Visa would be abolished and replaced by the TSS visa, with a requirement that employers seeking to hire foreign talent make a contribution to the Skilling Australians Fund (SAF), established to fund training for Australians. For example, a business with under $10 million in turnover would have to pay an annual SAF levy of $1200 per worker engaged on a TSS Visa.

In a related announcement, the Department of Home Affairs advised the list of occupations eligible for skilled migration visas would be ‘significantly condensed,’ fuelling concerns the reform could create a skills gap, especially in the technology sector.

As employers prepare for the TSS visa program to kick in, four companies shared their thoughts with Dynamic Business.

According to Peter Harris, CEO of franchise marketing platform Digital Stack, although the SAF levy would “better off” in the pockets of businesses, the time employers will spend negotiating visa red tape will ultimately be a “greater cost”. He admitted, however, that there are more costly visa processes abroad: “we’ve just paid 10,000 pounds to sponsor a London-based employee”.

Harris was also sceptical about the Skilling Australians Fund, explaining that while it was “well-intended”, he didn’t believe it went far enough to address local skills shortages in software development. He added, “Perhaps the Government could look at waiving the [SAF levy] for companies that are actively upskilling and employing graduates. For example, we regularly have final year students in-house as interns, and they almost always transition to full-time employees.”

Meanwhile, Ben Thompson, the CEO of HR platform Employment Hero suggested the TSS Visa could deter top talent from coming to Australia, shrinking the pool of talent available to local businesses. He explained, “Due to the rigorous training requirements, top talent might choose to go where it is easier to receive a work visa and potentially permanent residency. This would make it even harder for start-ups and SMEs to access talent that would otherwise help fuel the growth of their business.”

Dimitrios Katsaros, the founder of immigration law specialist firm Katsaros & Associates said his clients are anxious due to the Department not only remaining ‘tight-lipped’ about the precise date of the new changes but also indicating further changes may be introduced at a later time.

“Many of our clients who are wait for their visas to be submitted are worried that last minute changes may make then ineligible for certain visas,” he said. “In addition, these radical changes have affected our Australian business clients, as they are unsure when they can nominate skilled individuals in much-needed occupations where there is a shortage in Australia. The impact of these changes is vast and will affect the Australian economy in respects that seem to be overlooked in these ideological pursuits.”

Adam Stone, founder and CEO of freelance marketplace Speedlancer, said hiring people overseas, as part of distributed workforce strategy, was “easier” for his company “than attempting to grapple with visa processes” due to enabling technologies.

“I’ve hired a number of people overseas because it’s easier and faster and it’s where I am able to find some really qualified people,” he said. “Complicated visa processes mean I’m drawn to hiring overseas but for other Australian business, we need to make it easier to access the talent they need to grow, and not risk stifling their growth.

“Some of our staff would love the option of moving to Australia but current visa requirements mean we can’t even entertain that idea because it’s too hard. If it was easier to bring talented people, or people who show promise to be very talented (even if they’re young and may not necessarily have all of the qualifications to score a visa) then it should be made easier to integrate them into our local teams.

“If the Government doesn’t make it easier to import talent, I think more and more companies will also consider the approach of hiring overseas. Australia is already the world’s biggest outsourcer per capita and I think that trend will continue. To counter that trend and make Australia a competitive place to run a business, visa reform is needed to make the process easier and I’m not sure that the changes being introduced necessarily reflect that.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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