Tech talent shortage: immigration officials move on "global impact visas"

Come on John Key, now you’ve speeded up refugee visas, can we have some of those global impact visas you promised?

In his speech at the National Party’s annual conference in July this year, Prime Minister John Key made an announcement that made a lot of sense. He said he was planning a new “global impact visa” aimed at “young, highly-talented, successful technology entrepreneurs and start-up teams, who want to be based in New Zealand, employ talented Kiwis and reach across the globe.

Then there was a whole heap of radio silence – nothing more from Government.

But here at Idealog we would argue this is an idea worth looking at – and sooner rather than later.

At the moment, our points-based immigration system relies heavily on people having heaps of money, lots of business experience, or loads of qualifications. But what about young cool tech entrepreneurs who drop out of university to start the Next Big Thing in their garage, but who also might be attracted by the laid-back, innovative Kiwi lifestyle?

Take Sam Morgan, Peter Beck and Sir Peter Jackson, none of whom have degrees.

Or Steve Jobs, who quit varsity and spent 18 months working at a commune in an apple orchard before going to work for games maker Atari (where he was so smelly he was put to work on the night shift, away from other humans).

At the moment, none of these highly-talented individuals would have likely got a New Zealand visa, at least in the early stages of their careers.

Details around the global impact visas are very sketchy so far, with Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse only prepared to say that work is being done by officials to develop the concept, but it is still at an early stage.

No announcement is expected until at least next year.

"One hundred inspired New Zealand entrepreneurs can turn this country around.”  Sir Paul Callaghan

Scientist and commentator Michelle Dickinson reckons the critical factor for an effective attract-a-geek visa will be around the definition of “successful”.

“My arguments with this visa design is that it must be flexible around the concept of how success is measured, which can not just be financial success if we are to attract entrepreneurs with global impact potential,” she said in a recent blog post.

Dickinson, who spent some years living and working in Silicon Valley and New York, but came to live in New Zealand for the lifestyle, was involved in early think tank discussions around the new visa. She would like to see a process where talented individuals could be shoulder tapped – not presumably by Immigration officials, but by other New Zealanders (Dickinson, for example) who wanted to make sure the right people got the right information.

“There are amazing successful entrepreneurs who would be able to bring incredible expertise and talent, [and many of them] are just friends of ours. So once there is official sign off, we will make sure that they know about the visa in case its something they wanted to apply for.”

She quotes the late Sir Paul Callaghan, who once said that “one hundred inspired New Zealand entrepreneurs can turn this country around”.  

Sounds good to us.