Working holiday visa makers will now be able to stay with an employer for 1 year and if they do extra agricultural work, they will be able to stay in Australia longer. The age limit will also be lifted to 35 for some countries. For some Pacific Islanders taking up seasonal work, they will also be able to stay 3 months longer.
These are efforts by the Morrison government to bring temporary farm workers into Australia. This is a result of months of pressure from the National Farmers Federation and other groups.
Rural industries have been unable to find Australian workers as most locals are unwilling to do short-term and seasonal work. Therefore, these industries are very reliant on foreign labour. It is estimated that about 30,000 seasonal workers are needed per year.
National Farmers Federation and other groups have been lobbying the federal government to introduce a special agriculture visa, which will allow foreign workers to come to Australia to work in jobs such as fruit picking and packing. The Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s proposal for a special agricultural visa was rejected by his cabinet colleagues in September.
The government will loosen restrictions on 2 existing visas:
- The Working Holiday visa (subclass 417)
- This is a temporary visa for young people who want to holiday and work in Australia for up to a year. Previously, you need to be 18 to 30 years of age to be eligible. This is now increased to 35 years of age for some countries.
- The restriction of only working 6 months with one employer is now increased to 1 year.
- The Seasonal Worker Programme
- This programme allows a limited of approved employers to bring in workers from 9 participating Pacific Island countries (Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) and Timor-Leste by providing access to work opportunities in the Australian agriculture sector, accommodation sector in selected locations and tourism sector.
- Currently, employers can employ seasonal workers from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga and Vanuatu for a maximum period of 6 consecutive months. Seasonal workers from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu may be employed for a maximum period of 9 consecutive months. The seasonal workers must then return home for a minimum of 5 months before coming back to Australia.
- Under the changes, seasonal workers from all countries will be able to stay for a maximum of 9 months. In addition, employers will only have to pay $300 towards the worker’s travel costs, instead of the current $500.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the agricultural visa changes would help farmers fill critical workforces shortages with flexible labour.
“We don’t want fruit rotting on the vine or crops left in the field and it’s vital our farmers maximise their hard work and economic returns,” he said in a joint statement with several Nationals colleagues.
“We want Australians filling Australian jobs but when this isn’t possible action was needed to ensure farmers weren’t left high and dry.”
About 419,000 backpackers visited Australia in 2017, spending 1.4 million nights in regional areas where they spent $920 million.