A political battle over new STEM visas

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The Turnbull government has announced it will pilot a new visa scheme designed to attract skilled global talent, including in STEM-related businesses.

In a joint announcement, innovation minister Michaelia Cash and citizenship and multicultural affairs minister Alan Tudge announced the creation of the Global Talent Scheme.

The ministers said the scheme would consist of two components. 

Established businesses with an annual turnover of more than $4 million will be able to sponsor skilled and experienced individuals for positions with earnings above $180,000.

Technology-based and STEM-related start-up businesses will also be able to sponsor experienced people with specialist skills.

In both instances, a four-year Temporary Skill Shortage visa will be issued with permanent residence applications available after three years.

The employers will need to be able to demonstrate they prioritise the employment of Australians and that there will be skills transfer to local workers as a result of the person being granted a visa.

The sponsoring business must also have a track record of hiring and training Australians.

The ministers said the government would consult on the details of the scheme, before piloting it for 12 months, starting 1 July 2018. An industry advisory group will provide ongoing guidance for the pilot.

Labor slammed the initiative as only a trial, highlighting its commitment to creating a four-year SMART visa for overseas talent in science, medicine, academia, research and technology.

The trial is the latest Turnbull government announcement on working visas. Last year, it announced changes that dramatically cut back the number of eligible skilled occupations qualifying for a range of temporary and permanent skilled visas. It backed down and reinstated a number, including related to the biopharmaceutical sector, after lobbying by individual companies and associations like AusBiotech.

Minister Tudge said, while Australians must be prioritised for jobs, the new trial is recognition the global competition for talent is significant and fierce.

“This is part of the ongoing reforms to our skilled visa programs to ensure that Australians have priority for Australian jobs, but acknowledge that there are times when the skills are not available in the country,” he said.