Now more than three months into its year-long pilot and the government’s Global Talent Scheme (GTS) remains a source of confusion within the tech sector.

A report circulated earlier this month stating the program failed to meet its 1 July launch date and had been “effectively halted” due to recent turmoil in Canberra.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has since denied such claims.

“The 12-month pilot was launched on 1 July 2018,” a DHA spokesperson told Information Age.

“There has not been a delay to the launch of the GTS and the pilot has received encouraging early interest.”

But just because the program is under way doesn’t mean its impact is being felt yet, particularly in the start-up space.

The DHA did not provide any information on how many (if any) visas had so far been issued under the scheme.

First announced in March, the arrangement for the Global Talent Scheme was that both established businesses and start-ups would be able to bring in overseas workers on a four-year Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa to fill highly-skilled positions that cannot be filled by either Australian workers or other visa programs.

It was also promised visas under the GTS would be given high-priority status, meaning they could take between 17 and 30 days to be approved.

Startup Muster gathers and shares information from the Australian start-up space.

Director and Co-founder Monica Wulff highlighted the potential value of the scheme for Australian start-ups.

“Australian start-ups need high end tech talent to grow their companies and bringing in skills and experience from overseas is a viable option,” she said.

“It's early days of the 12-month pilot and no doubt start-ups would like to be part of the program.”

The process

And while there is no doubt that many Australian start-ups would like to be part of the program, proving eligibility provides a challenge in itself.

Businesses must give evidence of local labour market testing before they can look to bring in foreign workers.

Additionally, start-ups must be endorsed as “viable and genuine” by an independent advisory panel.

InnovationAus last week reported that this stage of the process has been a source of delay, as the assessment panel is yet to be finalised.

However, a representative involved in the Industry Advisory Group for the initial pilot of the GTS confirmed to Information Age that the panel of specialists is currently working with the DHA on the program.

Representatives from Atlassian, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and the Business Council of Australia make up the panel.

Weighing up options

Even after a start-up is deemed eligible by the independent advisory panel, the GTS process is not over.

Start-ups must have also secured an investment of at least $50,000 from a venture capital company registered under the Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnership (ESVCLP) or received an Accelerating Commercialisation Grant from the government.

According to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, there are currently 52 VCs registered under the ESVCLP and another 27 conditionally registered.

Canaria’s Global CTO, Dr Rob Finean – still based in the UK – said neither funding option suited Canaria Technologies’s situation when trying to secure his own visa.

“We’ve not tried for the GTS visa because raising $50k+ seed-funding from that particular shortlist of VCs seems a really inappropriate restriction on the source of investment,” he said.

“The Accelerating Commercialisation Grant would be a better route but is only for scale-ups with revenue to match the grant funds.”

Instead, Finean went down the TSS visa route.

But a dispute over local labour market testing requirements left Canaria Technologies in an appeal process with the DHA, a process that on average takes 435 days.

Finean and Canaria have now turned to their uncertain “last resort” – relying on the Queensland Government to sponsor Finean instead of Canaria.

Setting up for success

While the pilot of the GTS is only for 12 months, there are plans to continue it on a permanent basis.

Critical to this is ensuring the pilot runs to plan, a spokesperson involved in the Industry Advisory Group confirmed.

“They don’t design a program like this to fail.”

And the strict protocols start-ups are made to follow are part of ensuring the program’s vision of success.

“For a pilot program, if they’re just sponsoring this start-up and that start-up without doing a lot of due diligence and that start-up fails to achieve, it doesn’t make this program look very good,” the spokesperson said.

“So, the extra vetting [of start-ups] does make sense.

“It’s a great thing to keep these companies local and that’s one of the reasons that this program was designed – so that we don’t keep losing talent offshore, which is what has been happening.”

Lack of awareness

CEO and Co-Founder of Brisbane-based start-up SiteSee, Lucio Piccoli was not even aware the GTS existed.

“I haven’t had any experience with this new visa,” he said. “Why? Because we didn’t know about it… we found out about it yesterday.”

“No one else I’ve spoken to in the start-up space knows anything about it, so it’s pretty clear it hasn’t been promoted very well.”

Founded in 2016, SiteSee uses machine learning to automate 3D model analysis.

Piccoli currently has a foreign national as part of his team working under a student visa. This means the employee’s weekly input is capped at 20 hours.

“I showed her the GTS visa and she said, ‘I’ve never heard of this either’ – so there seems to be a lack of knowledge even among foreign nationals who come here,” he said.

“I would love to get her off her student visa and onto this visa.”