The Albanese government is considering a proposal to make it easier for global companies to bring their best and brightest staff to Australia.
Simplifying the process for intra-company transfers is something that is being advocated for by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) as “low-hanging fruit” that could help relieve the skills shortage in Australia.
CEDA chief economist Jarrod Ball said the United States and the United Kingdom both already had clear paths for multinational companies to bring talent into those countries quickly and through a streamlined process.
In 2021, the US granted more than 116,000 intracompany (L1) visas, although before the pandemic this number was much higher at more than 698,000 in 2019.
Mr Ball said introducing a similar fast-tracked pathway in Australia would encourage more investment and a transfer of knowledge from overseas-based experts.
Australian companies including biotechnology multinational CSL and medical device company Cochlear have both advocated for easier intra-company transfers for years, to share specific expertise and improve skillsets between countries.
“Generally multinational, large companies are trusted users of the visa system, and they tend to facilitate a fair bit of foreign investment and also knowledge transfer across their workforces,” Mr Ball said.
“They also tend to plan and develop their talent in a global way, and so they think about moving their best executive talent across borders, to the areas where there’s the biggest projects, the biggest investment, and the biggest demand for specialised skills.”
Trusted employers could get access to visas
At the moment, companies that want to send their staff to Australia must use the standard pathways available to all migrants, such as applying for a temporary skill shortage visa or permanent skilled visa.
Between 20,000 and 60,000 temporary skilled visas are issued every year, with 32,062 granted in 2021/22. But Mr Ball said it could take six months for an employee to get to Australia using this system.
Scheme could also benefit Australian workers
Mr Ball said discussions he’d had with large multinationals indicated there was significant demand for intra-company transfers.
“A lot of companies, particularly in the higher-tech areas, I think would really benefit and appreciate it,” he said. “It’s certainly a proposal that I’ve heard come up or supported in a number of discussions with large companies.”
The scheme also has the potential to benefit workers in Australia.
Mr Ball said the establishment of advanced manufacturing by CSL and Cochlear in Australia shows they relied on experienced global talent to help build their workforce, and this meant knowledge was transferred to local workers in Australia.
“That’s quite a long time when you think about the values of the investments and getting people into a country to work on projects,” he said.
Mr Ball believes a new four-year visa with a pathway to permanent residency could be made available to trusted employers and accredited users of the visa system for intra-company transfers.
“I think you would have quite a high salary threshold, so probably well and truly in excess of $100,000,” he said.
“Advanced manufacturing and technology are some of those areas where there’s just project management and other expertise that can only be gained offshore,” he said.
“Being able to bring that onshore allows us not only to establish that business investment and the opportunities around it, but also to transfer that knowledge to local workers.”
Mr Ball said that given countries such as the US and UK already had these fast-track programs, some reciprocity was needed in Australia to mirror some of these arrangements. “It really helps to grease the wheels of international investment and trade,” he said.
Hopes for progress in 2023
The Albanese government appears to be open to the idea, with Immigration Minister Andrew Giles telling a CEDA conference last month that it was “an important idea that deserves serious consideration”.
“Providing global businesses with simple processes for international staff movement within the same company can help build Australia’s attractiveness for investment and growth,” he said.
“But these rules must not permit companies to sidestep responsibilities for paying market salary rates in Australia. I look forward to working with CEDA, and others, on these reform questions.”
CEDA is an independent think tank that aims to help improve Australia’s economy and society.