Visa change gives boost

CRITICAL SHORTAGE: With COVID-19 restricting worldwide travel, Australian primary producers are struggling to find seasonal labourers - a workforce traditionally made up of both international backpackers and workers from the Pacific Islands.

By Leon Georgiou

THE Federal Government has announced a new agriculture visa to help provide Australian farmers with a secure source of international seasonal workers – a labour force that has traditionally been made up of both international backpackers and workers from the Pacific Islands.

While the new visa is set to come into effect at the end of the month, it is still unknown which countries will sign up to the program and subsequently, how many workers it will attract.

The changes come in the wake of Australia’s recent free trade agreement with the UK, which removed the need for British backpackers to work on farms – for 88 days – during their stay within Australia.

In an interview with the ABC, National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson suggested the change would remove around 10,000 British seasonal workers from the agriculture sector.

Member for Barker Tony Pasin said the full conditions of the new agriculture visa would be developed over the next three years.

“With the changes to the Working Holiday Maker program following the UKFTA, the Government knew this was the time to put the agriculture visa in place,” he said.

“We’ve listened to our communities and our industries, and this is what they’ve asked for.

“The visa will be open to applicants from a range of countries and will be available to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers.”

Coonawarra Vignerons executive officer Ockert le Roux welcomed the new visa saying it would help many of the Coonawarra’s larger wine producers – who rely on international seasonal labour, especially during the pruning season.

“In the past, we have relied on overseas backpackers to fulfill these roles and obviously with COVID restrictions [it has made it harder] to move across countries,” Mr le Roux said.

“I have visited some of our growers that use local seasonal employees, some of them in decades long relationships with workers that return every season.

“But I also understand that there are the bigger wineries or corporates that are reliant on that overseas labor force to come and do these activities.”

The new visa is also a win for the National Farmers Federation, who have been lobbying the government, over many years, for a visa that meets the sector’s specific workforce needs.

Federation president, Ms Simson, believed the new visa was a significant step towards solving the farm sector’s enduring workforce crisis.

“There will be a sigh of relief from farmers from the very northern tip of our country to those in the most southerly parts of Tasmania,” she said.

“The onus is now on state and territory governments and their chief health officers to approve quarantine arrangements to safely house incoming foreign workers.

The Agriculture Worker Visa will come into effect September 30, 2021.