The Australian government announced on Monday 19 March 2018 that it will trial a new visa scheme for 12 months to attract highly skilled global talent to Australia.

The initial information released for consultation indicates that the visa scheme will include two streams: (i) an established business stream; and (ii) a start-up stream.

Established business stream

Businesses with an annual turnover of more than AU$4 million for each of the past 2 years, and publicly listed companies, will be able to sponsor highly skilled and experienced individuals under this stream for positions earning a minimum of AU$180,000 per annum. Individuals must have at least 3 years’ work experience directly relevant to the position and qualifications held must be commensurate with the position.

The business must demonstrate that its recruitment policy gives first preference to Australian workers (relevant considerations include the percentage of workforce that is Australian, and training of Australians). Labour market testing for the specific position is required. The business must also be a good corporate citizen with no breaches of workplace or immigration laws, and must pay market salary rates for occupations within the business.

Eligible businesses will be allowed to access up to 20 positions per year. The stream will enable access to 4 year Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visas (see below) and age cap concessions and will allow a transitional pathway to permanent residence after 3 years.

Start-up stream

STEM-related start-up businesses (for example, in the digital, biomedical and agtech fields) will also be able to sponsor highly skilled and experienced individuals under this stream for positions earning a minimum market salary rate per annum (with no less than an AU$53,900 cash component). Individuals must have at least 3 years’ work experience directly relevant to the position and qualifications held must be commensurate with the position.

The business must demonstrate that its recruitment policy gives first preference to Australian workers. Labour market testing for the specific position is required. The business must be a good corporate citizen with no breaches of workplace or immigration laws, and must pay market salary rates for occupations within the business.

In addition, to be eligible a ‘start-up authority’ (to be defined) will need to endorse the business and financial criteria may also apply, for example, working capital or capital raised.

Eligible start-ups will be able to access up to 5 positions per year. The stream will enable access to 4-year TSS visas (see below) and age cap concessions and will allow a transitional pathway to permanent residence after 3 years.

New scheme forms part of ongoing reforms

The trial scheme forms part of the government’s ongoing reforms to skilled visas, as demonstrated by the recent abolition of the subclass 457 Temporary Work (Skilled) visa and its replacement with subclass 482 TSS visa on 18 March 2018, together with a number of complementary reforms to permanent skilled sponsored programs. Notably, unlike the 457 and TSS visa programs, the new visa scheme in its current form does not mandate a specific list of occupations.

The trial will commence on 1 July 2018 and will last 12 months. The initial scheme settings are expected to be refined in consultation with industry and other stakeholders in the period to 1 July 2018, with an industry advisory group to provide ongoing guidance. Stay tuned for further developments on the trial scheme.