The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will operate a new agriculture visa that the government says will respond to workforce shortages in the agriculture and primary industry sectors.
DFAT and the Home Affairs and Agriculture departments will design the visa to ‘ensure a high degree of integrity and safeguards for workers’, according to agriculture minister David Littleproud.
“We will work closely with partner governments also, including our Pacific family, to ensure their interests are protected,” he said on Monday.
The visa will be available to workers across the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors, and will be open to applicants from a range of countries, Littleproud said.
“Full conditions will be developed and implemented over the next three years as the visa is operationalised. During this implementation period we will work to achieve a demand driven approach and consider permanent residency pathways and regional settlement,” he said.
The visa will build on the existing Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme, which were developed to address workforce shortages.
Earlier this year the Australian Workers’ Union raised concerns about the proposed agriculture visa, arguing that it would ‘exacerbate the already rampant abuse and exploitation’ occurring on Australian farms.
The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed the government’s announcement, stating that there would be a ‘sigh of relief’ from farmers across the country.
“The Seasonal Workers Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme are very positive programs that are well utilised by large fruit and vegetable farms. We expect both these programs will continue to grow and deliver on their mission to strengthen ties with our Pacific neighbours. However, the costs involved and the requirement to provide many months of work to sponsored workers, mean they don’t suit most farms,” NFF president Fiona Simson said.
“A bespoke ag visa, tailored to meet the labour requirements of farmers, will allow family farmers, which make up the lion’s share of Australian agriculture, to recruit the workers with the skills they need, for the time they need them.”
While regulations to enable the creation of the visa will be in place by the end of September, operation of the visa will depend on negotiations with partner countries.
Littleproud said the government was working with the states and territories, noting that quarantine places were the ‘biggest constraint’ to bringing overseas workers into Australia.
The government is undertaking industry consultations to understand needs across the agricultural sector.