Long-awaited good news on ag visa

17th June 2021 | Eativity editors

Yesterday’s announcement of a new seasonal agriculture worker visa has come as a relief to growers who’ve been struggling to find a secure workforce since COVID hit. However, industry bodies remain cautious, saying that they’ve heard such promises before.

AUSVEG, peak industry body for Australia’s vegetable growers, has welcomed the news that the federal government will make a new agriculture work visa available to 10 countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The visa will provide farmers with a wider pool of workers to help meet seasonal labour gaps, and would enable workers from ASEAN nations to work in Australia for up to nine months, three years in a row.

According to the announcement from Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, the new seasonal agricultural worker visa will mirror the existing Seasonal Worker Programme.

The new seasonal agricultural visa will add to the pool of workers available to work on Australian farms. 

“The horticulture industry has been calling for a dedicated and productive workforce for years,” says AUSVEG National Manager of Public Affairs, Tyson Cattle. “Growers need access to a productive, reliable and competent workforce. While working holiday makers will always have a role to play within our industry, giving workers a pathway to primarily work on-farm should be seen as a major step forward for the development of the horticulture sector.”

The 10 ASEAN countries are some of our closest trading partners, so extending an agriculture visa to these countries also makes economic sense, Cattle says.

“What we need now is timely action to get this visa class up and running so that we can start bringing in workers as soon as possible when borders open up and international workers are able to enter the country,” he continues.

Farmers continue to struggle with workforce issues, and industry hopes the new visa will lead to improvements.

Citrus Australia and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) have also both welcomed the announcement of the new visa. However, Citrus Australia’s CEO Nathan Hancock says the government must implement the agriculture visa this year to ensure growers are no worse off under changes made under the UK Free Trade Agreement.

Working holiday makers from the UK don’t have to work in regional Australia for 88 days to acquire the second year of their visa under the new FTA arrangements, which is expected to mean a large decline in these workers taking on agricultural work.

“For many years, industry has been calling for appropriate visas to attract people who want to work in agriculture rather than people who have to work in agriculture to extend their holiday,” Hancock says. “It’s regrettable that the ag visa has taken so long to find favour within government. This is only the first step and there are few details, but the rhetoric indicates we’re moving in a direction industry is comfortable with. But we can’t help but be cautious, because industry has been promised an ag visa since at least 2018.”

NFF President Fiona Simson is also feeling cautious about the government’s promise, saying that farmers would be be forgiven for being a little cynical, having heard similar announcements and supportive words stretching back to 2018.

“What matters now is that industry and government work collaboratively to design a scheme that will deliver genuine and effective relief to farmers,” she says.