The Turnbull government’s move to abolish the 457 visa program has raised jitters among Australian technology businesses, especially within the start-up community who now face the prospect of acute staff shortages.
Liz Kaelin founder of Caitre’d, an online platform that serves the hospitality industry is already feeling the pinch. She could lose her Dutch marketing manager, Iris van der Staak, whose marketing specialist role has been removed from the Immigration Department’s skills list.
Since van der Staak’s started working at Caitre’d the company’s income increased threefold meaning her departure could seriously disrupt the growth of her young enterprise? To make matters worse, Caitre’d have spent thousands of dollars to sponsor van der Staak’s visa application, an effort which could go up in smoke if the status quo holds. Van der Staak is currently on a bridging visa awaiting the outcome.
“She has particular expertise,” says Kaelin, “and it’s also the fact she’s been working alongside me for an extended period, I don’t know if that’s replaceable.” She calls the announcement of the 457 visa changes “catastrophic” as the new skills list takes effect immediately meaning all the applications currently processed by the Immigration Department will be retrospectively affected.
Bridget Loudon CEO of the Sydney based start-up Expert360, says it is still too early to tell how the change will impact on Australian businesses relying on foreign employees on work visas, but there is a high chance that some start-ups would have no choice but to move their headquarters to Europe or the US.
“In fact, 457 visas have played a big part in helping us grow so significantly over the past four years, and it would be a shame if other high-growth businesses would not be able to achieve that same level of success because of these changes.”
Alex McCauley owner of StartupAUS, another tech company, agrees that talent is one of the major planks on which any successful start-up enterprise is built, and he has no doubt that Australia’s start-ups need access to the world’s best talent if they are to survive.
Figures from industry body IT Professionals Association (ITPA), show that while the overall number of 457 visas issued over the last decade (excluding IT) has increased by just 2 %, during the same period, there has been a 136 % rise in visas granted to IT workers.
Incidentally, technology start-ups are looking to fill positions for other fields apart from technical areas, as demonstrated by Kaelin’s story. Annie Parker, head of start-up precinct Lighthouse, points out that tech companies also face skills shortages in disciplines like sales and marketing, business development as well as operations.
The 457 visa program is set to be replaced with the new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa program. However, only individuals on a list of approved skills occupations are eligible, and several roles have been dropped from that list.
Three technical roles were removed from the occupation skills list, but these affected the less widely-used categories. Most roles in software and systems remain eligible for the upgraded visa.