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Australian looking to attract global tech talent

The federal government has expanded the scope of Australia’s fledgeling permanent migration scheme for highly-skilled technologists after tripling the program’s intake for this financial year. The change is contained in a new direction for the two feeder visas used for the ‘Global Talent Independent’ (GTI) program – subclass 858 and subclass 124 – issued last month.

The direction (direction 89) will be replacing an earlier one outlining the target sectors for the GTI program when it was first launched in November 2019 to attract tech talent from across the globe.

The program initially focused on finding applicants likely to earn more than $153,600 each year in one of seven “future-focused fields”, including cybersecurity, fintech and quantum computing. However, as the new direction reveals, the government is now accepting applicants from 10 target sectors that cover far more ground than the original set of definitions.

New target sectors of note are education, tourism and the “circular economy”, while the remaining seven areas are largely an expansion of the original seven.

The remaining seven sectors are resources; agri-food and agtech; energy; health industries; defence, advanced manufacturing and space; digitech; and financial services and fintech. They are broadly similar to the former fields, with ‘digitech’ seemingly covering what was previous ‘quantum information, advanced digital, data science and ICT, as well as cybersecurity.

A spokesperson stated that the expanded sectors would “maximise opportunities” to sustain the country’s economic growth while building resilience for future global shocks and creating jobs. “Priority sectors have been identified to ensure that Australia’s investment priorities are focused to align with opportunities that support our post-Covid-19 economic recovery,” the spokesperson said.

GTI intake boosted to 15,000

Changes to the scheme’s scope come just months after the GTI cap was increased to 15,000 places, three times the 5000-target intake during the scheme’s first year in 2019-20. The government had previously indicated that the scheme would be central to a shake-up of its permanent migration program, driven largely by the coronavirus pandemic and recent upheaval in Hong Kong.

A total of 4109 people were granted GTI visas from 5923 expressions of interests (EOIs) over the first seven months, despite initially struggling to attract applicants. But as recently released freedom of information (FOI) documents show, more than 5500 EOIs have already been lodged for the scheme so far this financial year (as at 31 October).

Despite the increased quota, the 15,000 visas would be inclusive of “all the secondary applications as well”, including partners and children. Thus, the actual figures would be quite a bit lower. The main applicants will be invited would be far less than 15,000. However, the Minister is confident the quota will be filled.

It was noted that around 30 percent of EOIs were being issued to people working in ICT to date, many of whom already hold working visas, including at some of the largest IT outsourcers. Figures released by Home Affairs show that the with the largest number of EOIs approved in 2019-20 in the former “quantum information, advanced digital, data science and ICT sector”.

There is also a case to be made for local tech talent. In an article, the Chief Executive of the Australian branch of American aerospace, arms, defence, security, and advanced technologies company stated, “There’s very good talent in Australia, smart people and good innovators, but it’s a matter of connecting them with the programs where their skills are needed, not just finding them”.

He noted that Adelaide University’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning is one of the world’s most highly regarded institutions building expertise on challenging areas flowing from artificial intelligence.

“What this country has is amazing,” he said. “But you’ve got to go and find it, that’s the challenge.”

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