Ag work visas could be extended this season
Senator questions need for new ag visa
EXISTING agricultural work visa schemes could be expanded as the Federal Government scrambles to help farmers find enough workers for the coming harvest. It is understood the Government is looking at short-term options to help address the current labour shortage, as an agriculturespecific visa looks to be completely off the table.
While industry had hoped an ag-specific visa was pending, former assistant agriculture minister Anne Ruston this week questioned whether another visa was needed at all.
Senator Ruston, now Minister for the Pacific, pointed to the Seasonal Worker Program and the recently opened Pacific Labour Scheme as “two very good, largely agriculturally-focused visas that are available to the agricultural sector”.
“Let’s have a look at that before we just go throwing a new visa on to the table,” Senator Ruston told ABC Country Hour.
“Even a new ag visa, even if it was to be progressed right now, is not going to be available this season, whereas these existing programs are.”
While the seasonal worker program supplies about 8500 Pacific Island horticulture workers each year, the Pacific Labour Scheme is aimed at other industries experiencing skills shortages in regional Australia and could provide about 2000 workers.
Estimates put the agricultural labour shortage at up to 100,000. The National Farmers’ Federation has previously said the existing schemes do not meet agriculture’s needs, as they are designed as foreign aid programs first and foremost.
Debate on the ag-specific visa has revealed tensions
❝Even a new ag visa, even if it was to be progressed right now, is not going to be available this season, — Senator Anne Ruston
within the Government, with several senior Liberals opposed to the Nationals-led push, as it could threaten Australia’s strategic relationship with the Pacific, which is underpinned by labour mobility.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud – who repeatedly said he wanted an ag visa in place this year – must now find a new solution to address the worker shortage.
It’s understood this could include expanding the seasonal worker program to more countries, and extending working holidaymakers’ stays from two years to three if they undertake agricultural work.
However, figures show backpacker numbers are in decline, while the Department of Home Affairs knocked back 8000 applications in 2017-18.
It was last week reported industry wants, at a minimum, for the seasonal work program participants to be able to move from farm to farm, to open the scheme to smaller growers; and for backpackers to be able to stay at one employer for longer than six months.
AG VISA: The Federal Government may expand existing agricultural work visas as the industry scrambles to find farm workers before harvest.