The New Startup Visa in Australia— a Guide for Beginners

James Cameron — Partner at Airtree Ventures

The other day a good mate asked me a question — “what’s the number 1 thing that Australia needs to learn from Silicon Valley?” A tonne of things came to mind — but one thing stood out more than anything else: we need to attract more great talent from around the world 🌎🚀

I can’t think of a single factor that has had a bigger impact on the success of Silicon Valley than skilled immigration.

The numbers are staggering:

Some of our favourite portfolio companies at AirTree have been founded by immigrants to Australia like Manish from Dgraph, Mina from Different or Pieter from Secure Code Warrior.

I reckon if we can only learn one thing from Silicon Valley’s success — it’s that skilled immigration is critical to the success of a startup ecosystem 🇦🇺

The new ‘Startup Visa’

When the government decided to cut the 457 visa program, the startup ecosystem in Australia was rightly up in arms.

Fortunately, they’ve put in place a new Global Talent Scheme (GTS) pilot which is designed to cater for startups hiring needs — what we’re calling the ‘Startup visa’.

This scheme is aimed squarely at addressing Australia’s tech talent shortage.

The scheme is still only in pilot phase, and due to the reshuffle in the Department of Home Affairs last year, it has been a little slow to get off the ground.

However, it was recently announced that Q-CTRL was the first company to be certified as eligible to access the visa scheme under the Startup stream, and SafetyCulture the first under the Established Business stream.

Now that it’s up and running, this could be a game-changer for our ecosystem.

To figure out what the scheme’s all about and (more importantly) how you can get on it, we’ve teamed up with our friends at StartupAus and LegalVision to work through some of the most frequently asked questions.

Here’s our FAQ list with answers below:

1. What is it? 🤔

The ‘Startup visa’ is a brand new type of visa specifically designed for startup companies that operate in a technology-based or STEM-related-field.

This visa is part of the Global Talent Scheme (GTS) under the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa (subclass 482) which has now formally replaced the old 457 visa.

The Startup visa is designed to:

  • Help you attract top quality global talent, who possess highly specialised skills in their field
  • Fill niche roles within your business that you couldn’t otherwise fill from within the Australian labour market or the standard TSS visa program

It’s important to note that you can already sponsor people through the TSS visa program if the occupations you seek are available on:

  • The Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL — up to 2 year visa); or
  • The Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL — up to 4 year visa with the option to apply for a permanent residency pathway)
  • Together — the “eligible skilled occupations lists”
However, the most significant benefit of the Startup visa is that you can employ candidates for emerging or niche occupations that are not currently available or appropriately defined under a single occupation on the eligible skilled occupation lists (STSOL or MLTSSL).

This means you can now employ talent:

  • In emerging sectors such as Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality — this is really helpful since the technology industry is changing so rapidly, it’s difficult to fit new occupations (such as a quantum engineer) into the eligible skilled occupation lists that were created for more traditional visa programs ~20 years ago
  • To fill hybrid roles! In the more traditional visa programs you can only choose one occupation, and there are certain qualifications and requirements for that specific occupation that your ideal candidate may not meet exactly.

2. What kind of companies are eligible to apply for a Startup visa?

✅ You must be operating in a technology-based or STEM-related field (we’re hopeful this will cover most tech-focused startups in StartupAus!)

✅ You must be able to demonstrate that your recruitment policy gives first preference to Australian workers. The Labour Market Testing (“LMT”) under the Startup visa has more flexible requirements than the TSS visa (refer to: LMT website for comparisons). However you should be able to:

  • Provide evidence that you’ve advertised for the role in Australia (e.g. Seek, LinkedIn)
  • Keep a record of your job postings. And if no local applicants were successful, keep notes on why they were unsuccessful (e.g. not qualified enough etc.)

✅ Your company must be a good corporate citizen with no breaches of workplace law, or immigration law or any other applicable Australian law — though we hope you are doing all of this anyway!

✅ You may need to demonstrate that your employees are paid in accordance with current market salary rates for the occupation, noting:

  • The total amount can include equity
  • The minimum salary for the GTS is $80,000, of which at least $53,900 must be cash. The rest of the $80,000 minimum can be equity to the equivalent value (refer to: “Salary and Employment Condition Requirements for Sponsored Skilled Visas”)
  • Each occupation will need to meet its own industry specific salary benchmark by referring to sources such as joboutlook.gov.au, payscale or industry recruitment websites. If there is no clear benchmark to follow, you may need to demonstrate that you have taken appropriate measures to identify an appropriate salary for the nominated occupation

✅ You must be certified as eligible for the scheme by a ‘start-up authority’. This means you will need to meet at least one of the following requirements:

This requirement is only for the early stages of the pilot program, and as the scheme matures and develops, we would expect this to transition to a points-based test.

The Department of Home Affairs (the “Department”) has also set up an independent GTS Startup Advisory Panel (the “Panel”) to help them decide if you are eligible for a Startup Visa.

Assuming you meet the ESVCLP or ACG requirement above, then the Department will be in touch to seek further evidence for the Panel to make their assessment.

✅ Finally, you must also be able to demonstrate that:

  • You cannot fill the positions through the traditional TSS visa program (refer to: Question 6 and 7 below); and
  • Accessing the Startup visa will allow the creation of job opportunities and the transfer of skills to Australians
Once you become certified as an eligible company, you can access the Startup visa scheme and nominate up to 5 positions per year!

However, it’s important to note:

  • You must still lodge nomination applications for each overseas candidate — the Department will respond within 5–11 business days; and
  • Each candidate will still need to apply for a TSS visa online — the Department will respond within 5–11 business days (the process will be expedited given the Startup visa agreement is already in place)

3. What are the requirements for the candidates? 🤓

Candidates must:

  • Meet health, character and security requirements
  • Have no familial relationship with directors/shareholders of the company
  • Have qualifications that relate to the role they are applying for
  • Have at least 3 years’ work experience that is directly relevant to the position, and have the capacity to pass on skills/develop Australians

4. Key terms of the Startup visa

👉 The visa will last for up to 4 years, and if you decide you’d like to make the candidate a permanent employee, they may have access to a permanent residence pathway (“PR”) after 3 years.

👉 There are no age restrictions

👉 If the position ceases while the visa holder is on their temporary visa, they will have 60 days to find a new sponsor, apply for a new visa, or depart Australia.

5. How do I get one? 🙋‍

The pilot program will run until June 2019.

To get started:

  • First assess whether you can meet the ESVCLP or ACG requirements (refer to: Question 2 above and the Department’s website)
  • Then refer to the “Step by step process” on the Department’s website
  • Once an Expression of Interest has been submitted, the Department will request further info to assist the Panel in their assessment
The Department will continue to refine the process during the course of the pilot to ensure the Startup visa scheme is having the desired impact.

6. What is a Temporary Skill Shortage Visa (TSS)?

The TSS visa has two main streams:

  • The Short-term stream is for employers to source temporary overseas skilled workers in occupations that are needed to fill short-term skill shortages (occupations listed on the STSOL) — under this stream the visa is valid for a maximum of 2 years (or 4 years if an international trade obligation applies)
  • The Medium-term stream is for employers to source highly skilled overseas workers in occupations that are needed to fill critical skills shortages (occupations on the MLTSSL) — under this stream, the visa is valid for up to 4 years

The TSS visa is a temporary visa and does not provide a right to permanent residence:

  • If the candidate’s occupation is on the STSOL there is no option to apply for permanent residence
  • If the candidate’s occupation is on the MLTSSL, they will have the option to apply for permanent residence after 3 years, provided their occupation remains in need in Australia

Candidates must:

  • ✅ Have at least 2 years’ full time work experience directly relevant to the position and undertaken within the last 5 years
  • ✅ Provide evidence that they meet the English language requirements

There are no age requirements. However, you (as the employer) will need to be an approved business sponsor.

7. Which visa stream should I apply for — the traditional TSS visa or the Startup visa?

8. What other visas can tech-focused startups use to employ international talent? 🧐

The TSS visa is the most common way for employers to sponsor foreign workers temporarily. And, if the candidate meets all the requirements under the Medium-term stream (including having an occupation on the MLTSSL), you can nominate them for PR on subclass 186 through the direct entry stream.

If the candidate is:

  • ✅ Highly skilled;
  • ✅ Has an eligible occupation; and
  • ✅ Meets the points test and age threshold…

… they can apply for a visa under the general skilled migration program independently (subclass 189), or by being nominated by a state or territory government (subclass 190 or 489). Employers do not need to sponsor candidates for these visas.


If you have any questions about visa applications or your eligibility under the new Startup visa, LegalVision are great and they know this stuff back-to-front… so definitely get in touch with their immigration lawyers :)

And for more updates like this in your inbox — sign-up to our AirTree newsletter, or follow us on Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.