August 23, 2021
The Federal Government has announced a new Australian Agriculture visa which aims to entice temporary farm workers to Australia with the promise of a future pathway to permanent residency.
The new visa – which will be demand-driven and have no caps – will be on top of the existing Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) which the government hopes will double to more than 24,000 workers between now and next March.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced the new visa program in a joint media statement on Monday.
They said the visa was a response to workforce shortages in the agriculture and primary industry sectors, and recent changes to the Working Holiday Maker program as a result of the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
The Australian Agriculture visa will be available to workers across the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors, including meat processing.
It will be available to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers and operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Regulations to create the visa will be in place by the end of September however its operation will depend on negotiations for bilateral agreements with partner countries.
Full implementation will be completed within three years.
“The agriculture visa delivers what so many primary producers are crying out for,” Deputy Prime Minister Joyce said.
“It will give regional Australia the workers they need to get produce to plate in Australia, as well as our export markets.”
Mr Littleproud said the agriculture workforce shortage had been a major issue during COVID.
“This is a structural change to the agricultural workforce. It gives our farmers a confidence to plant a crop and know that they’ll be able to get it into the supply chain,” he said.
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Speaking on morning radio, Mr Littleproud said the visa was also about “bringing the next generation of migrants to rural Australia” because a pathway to permanent residency would also be put in place.
Countries from which workers would be sourced could include “the Vietnams, the Thailands, the Philippines, and Koreas of the world”.
He said the new visa was the “biggest structural reform to Australian agricultural labour in our nation’s history” but admitted its success relied on co-operation from State governments.
Mr Littleproud said arrangements would have to be approved by the Chief Health Officers and the Premiers in each State.
He said the States “wanted to own” the quarantine arrangements for agricultural workers.
“We’ve respected that. We’ve tried to help them. In fact, we’ve been holding roundtables with them and industry over the last couple of weeks to try and find new ways to help them bring these people in, to quarantine them,” he said.
The workers could be quarantined on-farm or in-country.
A South Australian trial at quarantining workers in Vanuatu will begin this month.
“(The States are) the ones that obviously want to own the quarantining. They have the capacity and they have to be able to live up to that capacity,” Mr Littleproud said.
“So, we have to work hand-in-glove with them. We respect that. But we’re trying to encourage them to be a little bit more courageous.
“Some States, in fact, aren’t even living up to those caps at the moment. So, there’s capacity within some of these States to take some of these workers, even within their hotel arrangements at the moment. So, we’re just saying to the States, this is your opportunity.”